I spent MLK Weekend differently than some, but it was special nonetheless

On the third Monday of the year our country comes together to pause and honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thousands brave the winter elements to walk in marades, visit his monuments and reflect on “the dream.” Others commemorate the day by volunteering—challenging themselves to answer what King deemed life’s most persistent and urgent question: “What are you doing for others?”

Throughout the years I, too, have joined the marchers, dedicated a day of service and quietly thanked a man who gave so much so that I could live a life with dignity.

But for the last three years, my family has marked the holiday differently. During this weekend we award a scholarship in my late father’s name to a student of color pursuing higher education.

It’s at the Educating Children of Color Summit that we honor my father’s belief in student potential and his support of local schools and organizations dedicated to their success. It’s our way of celebrating two men who shared similar views on the value of education.

Like Dr. King, my father grew up believing that education could open up the doors to a life filled with opportunity.

And, long before King dreamt that his four little children would one day be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, he emphasized the importance of character in the pursuit of education. “Intelligence, plus character,” he wrote in the Morehouse College student newspaper. “That is the goal of true education.”

In other words, if we are to truly consider ourselves educated, we must consistently aspire to marry intellect with the mental and moral qualities that make up who we are as individuals.

Having lost his own parents at the age of six, I believe it was my dad’s character—his faithfulness, his ambition and his integrity—combined with his intelligence that carried him through grade school, onto the Purdue campus, down the aisle, into the boardroom, and through the doorways of schools and organizations seeking to give students like him a shot at the same lifelong educational opportunities.

Inspired by the words of Dr. King, my father remembered that “intelligence alone is not enough.”

I’ll always be proud of how my father used both his talent and his character to advance his own life and the lives of others like him.

So this year when I read the essays of students applying for his memorial scholarship, selecting the recipient was easy. While Shaian’s math accolades and talents as an artist were impressive, her community work for the local YMCA and her desire to use her skills to create sustainable building design offered a glimpse into her character and inspired my family to help further her education.

Having met her this past weekend, I believe it will be her character—her humility, ambition, and sincerity combined with her skill—that will also carry her to graduation, throughout the Colorado College campus, and on to countless construction sites that will one day hold the foundation of award-winning, sustainable buildings built by her and for the good of her community.

So congratulations again Shaian, and thank you for sharing your talent and character with my family. We can’t wait to see more of your impact in the future.

Special thanks to GE Johnson Construction Company for supporting the George Harris Memorial Scholarship.

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