Students Petal McKenley and Nehemiah Charles were honored Wednesday during Polk State College’s 17th annual MLK Celebration as this year’s recipients of MLK Dream the Dream scholarships.
They were recognized for their academic achievements, community service, and inspiring stories during the event, which took place virtually for the first time in its history. More than 130 attendees, including Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti and U.S. Congressman Darren Soto, heard from powerful speakers: Professor of English and Speech Communication Robert Earl Brown, Polk County Public Schools Communications Analyst Merissa Green, and Orlando District African Methodist Episcopal Church Presiding Elder Valarie J. Walker.
Polk State Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Val Baker congratulated both McKenley and Charles, who will each receive scholarships worth up to $500 through the Polk State College Foundation.
“To me, ‘dream the dream’ means that no matter what is happening within the world, as long as I have my family, friends, and community, I know that there will be nothing to stop me from progressing as a human being, and as a Haitian-American.”
Dream the Dream Scholarship applicants must have grade-point averages of 3.0 or greater and submit essays about their academic and career goals, service to the community, and perspectives on how the civil rights movement influenced the culture of the United States. Additionally, they must explain what the phrase “dream the dream” means to them.
“To me, ‘dream the dream’ means that no matter what is happening within the world, as long as I have my family, friends, and community, I know that there will be nothing to stop me from progressing as a human being, and as a Haitian-American,” Charles wrote. “One thing that stood out to me in Martin Luther King’s speech is the line in where he still believes in the American Dream. As being a first-generation student and [an] immigrant, [I know that] the American Dream can only be achieved by those who truly want to receive all the benefits that it has to offer.”
McKenley, who emigrated from Jamaica to the United States approximately three years ago, echoed a similar sentiment in her essay. She enrolled in a GED program after dropping out of school at 13 years old and 29 years without any formal education. She is now on track to achieving her Polk State Associate in Arts degree this spring and is planning to enroll in a baccalaureate degree program.
“As they say, ‘the sky is the limit,’” she wrote. “Martin dedicated his entire life to the Civil Rights Movement – he had ‘a dream…’ Even though the aspirations of Martin’s dream have not come to full fruition, we can take solace in the fact that it is up to our generation and our children’s generation to ‘dream the dream’ and make it a reality.”
Both McKenley and Charles touted the importance of education in King’s message.
“The dream offers us a way to ensure that our children and our grandchildren will not only know the ways of our people but also be knowledgeable in how we reach for the place we are now in today,” wrote Charles, who aspires to join the U.S. Air Force and one day pursue a doctorate in education and science. “I want to be an example to the youth of my community.”
“Even though the aspirations of Martin’s dream have not come to full fruition, we can take solace in the fact that is up to our generation and our children’s generation to ‘dream the dream’ and make it a reality.”
“In order to advance Martin’s dream, I must realize my own dreams and objectives, by advancing my educational aspirations,” McKenley shared. “This scholarship will be a great incentive to helping me achieve my educational goals, and since serving is part of my nature, I will always find ways and means of fulfilling ‘my dreams.’”
The Dream the Dream Scholarship is made possible by the Polk State Foundation’s generous donors and is awarded annually during Polk State’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion’s MLK Celebration, which honors King’s work to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, and create solutions to social problems.
Donations to the Dream the Dream Scholarship Fund can be made online at foundation.polk.edu/mlk.