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African American and Latino Students Honored for Excellence

Sarah Thontwa receives the Steve Biko International Award

CHICAGO, IL (February 26, 2007) – Rollo Dilworth, associate professor of music, exhorted a gathering of North Park University students on Thursday night to remember their heritage and keep their minds active.

"We have all been uniquely gifted by God to serve a purpose on this earth," he said. "We have a destiny."

Dilworth addressed more than 80 attendees at the Student Awards Dinner that was held Thursday night in Magnuson Campus Center as part of Black History Month. The Center for Africana Studies (CAS) and Center for Latino Studies (CLS) sponsored the event and each presented seven students with trophies for excellence.

Dilworth shared that being true to his heritage, which goes beyond race and ethnicity, has meant advancing the dreams of his family. His parents gave him the middle name of a distant cousin, Augustus, which embarrassed Dilworth. "There are not too many black children running around with the name Augustus," he quipped.

He would later learn that the distant relative, Augustus Low, had been the first black student to earn a Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa. When Dilworth became the second member of his family to earn a Ph.D., the relative's daughter, whom he had never met, surprised him at the graduation ceremony and gave him the diploma that had been presented to her father. Holding the document up for the gathering to see, Dilworth said the diploma of a man he never knew but was named for – a name he once rejected –continues to inspire him.

Dilworth's early educational experiences also shaped his belief that the students should determine not to live down to the low expectations of those who are prejudiced. He recalled overcoming the opposition of teachers at his Catholic high school who thought he would be unable to succeed.

The Catholic elementary school he attended was filled with faculty who inspired Dilworth with their belief in him and every student regardless of color. Dilworth would do well enough to skip the first grade. Still, the situation was the reverse at the high school he attended.

He recalled the teacher who thought that because Dilworth was black, he couldn't possibly succeed without cheating. As a result, the faculty member refused to ever give him more than a B+ on any paper.

The situation would remain the same in Dilworth's sophomore year. The priest for that class had initially been influenced by the former instructor. To make sure Dilworth didn't cheat, the teacher stood looking over his shoulder during tests.

Dilworth says the teacher's presence initially was "unsettling," but it gave him the opportunity to prove he was doing the work himself. "I got straight A's," he said, smiling broadly.

Reading from a poetic reflection Rollo has written to inspire himself, he told the students to keep their minds active. Active minds, he said, are curious, energetic, as well as socially aware and sensitive. Other people around the students, including professors, need them to contribute their thoughts:

"O student, my student/Most wise and prudent/I want you to know what it is YOU have to say/I know it is you that learns/But secretly it's my soul that yearns/To be taught a new concept in class by YOU today," the professor said.

He told the students to boldly live their faith, but also to do so with humility:

"We may think we're doing well/When we condemn other folks to Hell/And decide their lives are full of shame and sin/The reality of this race/Is that we're all sinners saved by grace/I shouldn't have a Heaven or Hell to put you in."

The CAS honorees were:

Tierra Hatcher, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Outstanding Leadership Award
Marcus Simmons, Jackie Robinson Male Athlete of the Year
Alexandria Coleman, William Rudolph Female Athlete of the Year
Ramona Gant, Fannie Lou Hamer First-Year Student Award
Ashley Collins, W.E.B. DuBois Academic Excellence Award
Sarah Thontwa, Steve Biko International Award
Herbert Obah, Kwanzaa Award

The CLS honorees were:

Crystal Manjarrez, Excellence in Academics
Jessica Mena, Excellence in Athletics
Hannah Barbosa, Excellence in Campus Involvement – Graduate
Antonea Colon, Excellence in Campus Involvement
Mayra Hinojosa, Excellence in Community Service
Christina Martinez, Outstanding Latino Senior
Ileana Garcia-Soto, Outstanding Latino Graduate Student