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Najah Biggs works 20 hours a week at a Gordon Food Service store near her home in Flint to help support her single mother, who works part time.

For this Flushing High School graduate, being self-sufficient was important and she said working while in high school taught her the importance of money “because it’s your own.”

Najah is one of 42 students graduating from high schools across Michigan who have been named recipients of a one-time $2,000 scholarship from the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation. Those students will be honored Thursday at a luncheon at the St. John’s Banquet and Conference Center in Southfield.

In reponse to a question on the scholarship application about the defining social issue of her time, Najah wrote about the Flint water crisis.

“It’s easy to write about because I live it,” she said.

Najah argued that clean drinking water shouldn’t be considered a priviledge, but something everyone should have access to and she encouraged citizen activism.

Najah plans to study biology at Wilberforce University and to ultimately attend mecical school.

“I want to go into health care, so it’s easy for me to talk about how I’m going to go change things,” she said.

Another scholarship winner, Donovan Bey of Detroit, plans to study aerospace engineering at Western Michigan University. The University High School Academy student is a member of the school’s robotics and chess clubs and the Southfield chapter of the Kappa League.

Donovan said he was researching scholarship opportunities with his mother when he learned about the foundation and decided to apply because the essay prompt on the application spoke to him.

“I felt like if I wrote a quality essay, it’d be a stepping stone for me to do things in my community,” he said. “Rosa Parks started from the bottom with nothing to work with and I feel like that’s how we need to address the problems in society. Many times the problems in society are so deep that you need to start from the ground up and lay a good foundation.”

Kim Trent, president of the foundation, who was a 1987 scholarship recipient, said this year’s luncheon speaker, Gail Perry-Mason, exemplifies a Rosa Parks scholar because of the adversity she overcame.

Perry-Mason, who was put up for adoption at birth and was unable to speak for some of her childhood because of trauma, was a divorced 20-year-old mother in her sophomore year at Eastern Michigan University.

Perry-Mason became a successful financial adviser and now uses her story to inspire others as a professional speaker.

The foundation was created in 1980 by The Detroit News, Detroit Public Schools and the Butzel Long law firm. More than 1,000 graduates have been awarded more than $2 million since its inception.

The foundation was named as a tribute to founding board member and late civil rights activist, Rosa Parks.

The scholarship is open to Michigan graduating seniors and is awarded based on academic achievement, economic need and community involvement. This year, more than 220 applications were received.

Trent said the scholarship also is intended to inspire young people to pursue social change.

“It’s important because we really try to encourage young people who have an appetite for helping others, we really try to nurture that,” she said. “I think the scholars take the charge to be like Mrs. Parks very seriously.”

excarter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2613

@evancarter_94

Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation Board of Directors

Kim Trent, foundation president; former Rosa Parks scholar, education policy manager, Michigan Future Schools

James Rosenfeld, foundation vice president; shareholder, Butzel Long

Jonathan Hart, foundation secretary

Michael Johnson, foundation treasurer; senior executive, Professional Auditing Services of America

Alicia Nails, assistant foundation secretary; director, Journalism Institute for Media Diversity, Wayne State University

Luther Keith, assistant treasurer; executive director, ARISE Detroit! and former senior editor, The Detroit News

Dorothy Cocroft, retired labor relations, General Motors Corp.

Delora Hall Tyler, foundation past-president; president, First Media Group Inc.

Austerine Hambrick, retired director, Office of Guidance and Counseling, Detroit Public Schools

Marcia Hart, retired, Detroit Media Partnership administration

Dana Harvey, deputy district director, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan

Danielle McGuire, associate professor of history, Wayne State University

Walter Middlebrook, assistant managing editor, The Detroit News

Carey Osmundson, communication manager, UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust

Barbara K. Smith, Ph.D., director, Office of Guidance and Counseling, Detroit Public Schools

How to apply for the scholarship

High school students are encouraged to apply for a one-time $2,000 scholarship named in honor of civil rights heroine Rosa Parks. Applications must be postmarked by March 1, 2017. Information can be found at rosaparkscholarship.org and will be available through school counselors.

How to contribute

The Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, uses contributions to provide $2,000 college scholarships to Michigan high school students.

To make a tax-deductible contribution, mail checks to: Rosa Parks Scholarships, P.O. Box 950, Detroit, MI 48231. For more information, go to: rosaparksscholarship.org

Calling all alumni

Are you among the more than 1000 Michigan residents who have been named a Rosa Parks scholar since 1980? If so, the foundation wants to know where you are and what you are doing. Send a note to: Rosa Parks Scholarships, P.O. Box 950, Detroit, MI 48231. You also can reach us by email: info@rosaparksscholarship.com.

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