Here are a few facts about the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund
How and why did the scholarship fund begin?
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund of Rutherford County grew out of a need to address concerns regarding the African American achievement gap in education in our local school system and the quality of education available to African American students in Rutherford County, Tennessee.
Additional concerns surfaced regarding failed opportunities to acknowledge academic excellence among African American students when they performed well in the classroom, while student performance in the athletic arena was widely publicized in multiple media outlets.
Faced with these and other unsettling questions, a group of citizens convened in the early 1980's to share their concerns and possible solutions. Many of the early actions of this group sprang from a project designated, Life Skills Development, a program conducted in the Patterson Community Center, a local recreation center in the African American community.
Academic Achievement Contributions
This group soon enumerated the following student focused points which they felt contributed to the academic achievement gap found among African American students in Rutherford County:
1.African American students received media recognition mostly for achievement in athletics and encounters with the criminal justice system.
2.Participation in sports was strongly encouraged by parents, media and peers.
3.Academic award ceremonies at school had little African American student participation.
4.African American students who performed well in the classroom were frequently isolated and criticized by other African American students for taking a more rigorous course load- “acting white”.
5.The small number of African American students found in honors level classes (sometimes told that classes were closed due to capacity issues)-Systemic concerns.
6.The lack of opportunities for African American students to be honored for academic success.
Annual Senior Honors Awards Banquet
Subsequently, with the development of a mission statement and action plans, the decision to host an Annual Senior Honors Awards Banquet was made in 1984 to recognize academic role models for other students. With a modest goal of awarding $1,000.00 to the graduating African American student with the highest academic profile in Rutherford County, the board of directors approached the community and was surprised with the ability to generate contributions of over $4,000.00 during the first year of the banquet. The community further embraced the program by exceeding the capacity of the James Union Building on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, the site of the first banquet, with over 500 individuals attending the now historic first Annual Senior Awards Honors Banquet.
It is important to note that the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship is an academic award based on a scholastic score achieved by awarding weighted enumeration to grades obtained in the students course of study. Honors courses receive the highest scores in our qualifying selection process. National testing scores from the ACT and SAT are also factored into the student selection process.
Students are also asked to submit an essay delineating their scholarly and extracurricular activities in school and their community. This allows the board of the Dr. King Scholarship Fund to develop a comprehensive profile of each student submitting applications for this prestigious award.
Since the inception of the Dr. King Scholarship Fund, the community has seen a tremendous growth in the numbers of students who participate in academic awards ceremonies in the county. In 1984, only three students met the criteria for participation in the first senior awards banquet. In 2009, the annual capacity audience will honor 41 students for their academic success.
The success of the Senior Honors Award effort has allowed the Fund to award over $832,500 to 518 students during the last 30 year period. These funds have in large part come from local churches and individuals who decided to make a difference in the lives of children in the Rutherford County Community. These funds have allowed our children access to some of the most honored halls of education in America.
Following the success of the Senior Honors program, the Scholarship Fund subsequently started a recognition program for eighth grade AA scholars in the local school system. During Black History Month, an honors dinner is convened for students across the county who have made the honor roll or principals list at least once doing the school year. In 2013, we hosted 254 students who met this criteria with their parents in attendance. It was a monumental effort, but never- the- less, a most rewarding experience for members of the board of directors.
The Scholarship Fund has evolved to conduct enrichment programs to address special identified needs of students and requested programs from our students. With additional financial resources and manpower, we desire to expand this aspect of our efforts in the future.
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund has served as a catalyst for other communities in the Middle Tennessee community to begin similar efforts. We have been proud and honored to share our experiences with these communities and actively supported their efforts with personal contributions and attendance during some of the activities of these organizations.
The successes of the Scholarship Fund go far beyond the monetary awards to our students. The community pride generated by this program is most effectively seen in the tears of those who attend the banquets and discussions in the community. This community initiative speaks to the heart and desire of a community to say to our children that we value you and truly realize that you are our future.
African American Student Academic Achievement Gap Facts and Observations
1. African American Students score lower on standardized test even when socioeconomic factors are controlled.
2. African American Students drop out of school at higher rates than white students.
3. African American Students are not enrolled in “gifted classes” to the same degree as white students.
4. African American Students do not attend college as readily as white students.
5. The use of standardize test scores to 'track” children, places the African American student at a great disadvantage in school.
6. African American Students are suspended and expelled in numbers vastly disproportionate to white students.
7. African American Students are at risk because of past educational barriers and failures encountered by their parents.
8. A disproportionately number of African American Students come from communities where poverty and unemployment rates are high, drugs and violence are common which places them at significance risk to academic success in the classroom.
9. African American students have fewer academic role models to emulate.
10. African American students have fewer peer support groups which value education to promote good study habits.