Daryan Johnson was no stranger to the ceremony at Edgewood High School on Sunday.
The Monona Grove High School junior was among hundreds of middle school- and high school-age students honored during the 34th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Outstanding Young Person breakfast. Johnson, who also received the award in eighth and 10th grades, is now looking at college options and is leaning toward a medical profession.
Hosted by the Urban League of Greater Madison, the event is one of the largest every year in Madison honoring the late civil rights leader and featured 265 middle school and high school students nominated from over 30 schools in Dane County as outstanding young people in their communities.
“It gives us a chance as a community to take some time out and recognize the good work that students are doing,” said Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League.
The Bora family was celebrating the accomplishments of two children. Sisters Ragini Bora, a junior at Verona High School, and Keertana Bora, a sixth-grader at Verona Core Knowledge Charter School, both received the Outstanding Young Person award for the first time.
“I feel really proud that both my girls, and it’s a coincidence, are awarded in the same year,” said their mother, Jahnobi Bora. “I’m also amazed by the Urban League’s effort to make the kids feel recognized.”
Keertana admitted the idea of walking onto the stage to receive the recognition was a little daunting.
“I was kind of nervous at first, but now after the award, I feel really proud,” she said.
The ceremony also brought good news for its host, as CUNA Mutual Group announced a $200,000 donation to the Urban League’s campaign to get new or better jobs for 1,500 job seekers.
The Madison-based insurance and investment firm’s donation brings the Urban League’s pledged donations to $628,000, about a third of the way to the $2 million goal to support efforts to get new or better jobs by 2020.
“If they have a job where they make sustainable wages and (are) really able to provide food and clothing and really not have to (be) looking to anybody for anything, it’s just a wonderful thing,” Anthony said about the organization’s job placement goal.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Urban League of Greater Madison, and to honor the occasion, the volunteer auxiliary Guild has been re-established to support the organization’s mission.
The event also included a presentation of the Madison School District’s new class of Mann Scholars; the creative writing award winners from Delta Sigma Theta and the recipients of the Betty Franklin-Hammonds scholarship.
Nazira Atalla, an eighth-grade student at St. James School in Madison, was nominated by her assistant music teacher Merta Maaneb de Macedo for the Outstanding Young Person award.
Maaneb de Macedo credits Atalla for stepping up to tasks “even when she does not want to do them.”
“She’s very willing to work hard and apply herself even when sometime her peers are not. I think it’s really very much being a leader along the lines of Martin Luther King, standing up and speaking up,” Maaneb de Macedo said.
Maaneb de Macedo’s daughter, Aariika, also received recognition Sunday.
The junior at Edgewood High School is active in several student organizations, varsity track and volunteering, and said she plans to attend college “somewhere warm.”
Reflecting on current national politics and what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for, Anthony said the “nation has come too far for us to take steps back.”
“We need to continually look forward. I think Dr. Martin Luther King would encourage us to look forward and look for ways we can work better together,” Anthony said.
State Journal reporter Bill Novak contributed to this report.