2018 Rosa Parks Scholars tackle social issues

Blake Alsup
The Detroit News
The 2017 Rosa Parks scholars take a group photo at the annual luncheon at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, June 15, 2017.

Reem Aburukba and Davi' Gonzalez always have been inspired by the late Rosa Parks. This year, essays written by both students about the legendary Detroiter and civil rights icon led to them to receive a scholarship bearing her name.

They are among 37 Michigan high school seniors who will be receiving a $2,000 scholarship from the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation this year.

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Kim Trent, president of the foundation, said scholarship recipients are selected for more than just their academic performance.

"We choose students who have a demonstrated interest in social justice, in leaving a mark on the world in a meaningful way," Trent said. "Many of them are involved in both their community and in extracurricular activities at school."

The 2018 Rosa Parks Scholars will attend a luncheon Wednesday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History where Jenice Mitchell Ford, a 1992 recipient of the scholarship, will speak. She said the scholarship helped her pay for books throughout her four years at Georgetown University.

She plans to focus her speech on the non-academic intelligence the students will need to succeed.

"The other part of being smart is to operate with common sense and to do good for others," Mitchell Ford said. "You’ve got this part down pat, obviously, because you’ve achieved much academically, but now is the time where you have to continue not only down the academic route but to be impactful and actually do things that have significance."

Mitchell Ford also has been recognized by the foundation as the 2018 alumna of the year. She serves as chief general counsel of Detroit Public Schools Community District, where she manages an office of five attorneys and support staff who give legal counsel to the district.

After working in the private sector at a few of the nation's top law firms, she decided to make a contribution by applying her legal skills to the community that enabled her to succeed in the first place — the school system, which Mitchell Ford refers to as "the biggest piece of Detroit's real renaissance." 

Aburukba, 18, has similar aspirations. A recent graduate of Fordson High School in Dearborn, she was the president of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which deals with empowering foster children and raising awareness for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

She was also a member of the Interact club, which raised awareness for breast cancer and held a prom for special needs students and she was a national ambassador for the Do Something organization online.

She will be attending the University of Michigan and is thinking of double majoring in biology and economics. She previously wanted to be a lawyer but now plans to follow the pre-med track and become a doctor.

"I really want to help people and it seems like a good way to get actively involved in the health of everyone around me," Aburukba said. "I want to be one of those doctors that comes back to their community and gives back to them and helps them understand that they can get better as long as they receive proper treatment and care and that’s something that I’m really passionate about."

Receiving the scholarship is special to Aburukba because she compares Parks' battle as an African-American with segregation and racism to her own encounters with hate and prejudice as an Arab-American and Muslim.

"To find out that I actually won the scholarship and it’s a foundation in her honor, it was actually really empowering and surprising," Aburukba said.

The scholarship foundation was started in 1980 by The Detroit News, Detroit Public Schools and the Butzel Long law firm and has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to Michigan students.

Gonzalez, a 17-year-old Detroit resident, is another student who will benefit from the scholarship. He recently graduated from Chippewa Valley High School where he was involved in volunteer activities like helping feed the homeless at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, rehabilitating broken down houses through Habitat for Humanity Detroit and visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

He will attend the University of Toledo this fall and will be a pre-med student, hoping to become a neurologist.

"Watching my parents take care of my grandparents and losing my grandfather when I was only 6 months old and never really getting to experience his love," Gonzalez said. "That makes me want to go into the medical field so I can help other families who are dealing with the same thing and avoid that happening ever again."

He said the Rosa Parks Scholarship will alleviate financial stress and help pay for books and labs when he's in the medical program.

His essay about the Black Lives Matter movement and why urban cities deserve better resources cited Parks' stand against racism as inspiration for his future and how he will fight against obstacles similar to those that Parks faced.

Trent said many prominent issues in the world right now were reflected in all of the students' essays. Topics spanned gun violence, the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment, Black Lives Matter and immigration, to name a few.

"To me, it’s really encouraging that young people are kind of taking stock of the issues that are important to their generation and just trying to think through how they would play a role in solving some of these problems," Trent said.