Six high school seniors were presented Education Awards by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition at the online virtual ceremony held January 17, which commemorated the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This year’s awards recipients are:

Bishop Montgomery High School (BMHS) student Elyse Day received the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award. She is a member of the California Scholarship Federation and will graduate in 2022 with Honors. She loves playing volleyball and is on the BMHS Varsity Team. Her hobbies are painting, going to amusement parks, traveling, and shopping. Elyse will continue her education in college, majoring in sports management/business management. She aspires to become a sports agent. Elyse is confident that with her determination, along with the love and support from family and friends, her dreams will come true. This award was supported by a generous donation from the Santa Monica/Westside Legacy Fund for Women and Girls.

El Segundo High School (ESHS) senior Taya Good-Smith received the Sue Schuerman and Sally Mendelsohn Award. She is a 17-year-old who was born in Long Beach and grew up in South Los Angeles. She loves engaging in extracurricular activities. She plays volleyball, cheers for her high school team, and is the current Black Student Union president. Taya has been a member of the Girl Scouts for 11 years. She is in Associated Student Body (ASB), and currently serves as a co-commissioner for culture and diversity for ESHS. Taya plans to attend a four-year university, where she will study business administration to pursue her goal of working in human resources (HR) for the entertainment industry. She is a proponent of diversity and representation, and feels it is lacking in the entertainment industry. Taya plans to become an HR manager for a large entertainment company to expand and provide opportunities to underrepresented minorities. This award was supported by a generous donation from the Santa Monica/Westside Legacy Fund for Women and Girls.

Santa Monica High School senior Cristian Hagos received the Clyde Smith Award. He has maintained a 4.0 GPA while taking rigorous classes and being active in his community. His parents immigrated from Ethiopia to Santa Monica, where he was born and raised. In elementary school, Cristian was one of the only two Black boys in his grade, where he became acquainted with racial prejudice and exclusion at a very young age. This experience compelled him to compose an essay based on Dr. King’s principles of non-violence as his entry for the Education Awards. Cristian loves volunteering, exploring technology, hanging out with friends, and taking care of his health. He will attend a four-year university where he will major in biology and minor in African American studies. He will pursue a career in the medical field — most likely in pediatrics. The award for ‘artistic effort and service to making our world a better place’ is given to celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and honor Westside Coalition co-founder, director of the former Neighborhood Development Corporation, and revered community leader Clyde Smith.

Bishop Montgomery High School (BMHS) senior Leilani Rimmer received the Rebecca Benjamin Award. She is actively involved in school-wide events and, as a Link Crew Leader, she is a mentor for first year high school students and helps to keep them on track for success while having fun. Leilani is involved in the following school clubs: Marine Biology, Concordia, Black Student Union (BSU), and Book Club. She plays volleyball for BMHS Varsity Team, and she runs track for BMHS. Leilani has played club volleyball since she was 11 years old. Outside of school, she enjoys cooking, volunteering, and playing with and caring for her dogs. Leilani’s love for animals has inspired her to become a veterinarian. She has applied to Tuskegee University in Alabama, UC Davis, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to fulfill her academic success. This award was initiated and funded by her daughter, Kathleen Benjamin, to “create stepping stones of guidance, inspiration, and hope” to others in honor of her mother.

Larchmont Charter School senior Tyler Williams was presented the Lillie Bell Blakley Award. He is a 17-year-old from Los Angeles, and his primary interests are playing basketball and making music. He incorporates music with basketball a great deal because it helps him to play better and gets him focused before practice. Although he listens to all genres of music, hip hop and underground are his favorites. Tyler aspires to become a music producer, to earn a living doing what he loves, which is making music. In 6th grade, he realized his passion for music, and he has never digressed from this point of view. He is undecided about which college or university he will attend, yet he is positive that he will study music or mechanical engineering in pursuit of fulfilling his dreams. The award for a work that ‘demonstrates an awareness of tradition, legacy, and history’ is given in honor of Lillie Bell Blakley, whose passion to “keep moving forward” is apparent in her family’s multigenerational commitment to education and service, which includes her son and former Mayor of Santa Monica Nathaniel Trives, as well as her granddaughter, Dr. Toni Trives, former chair of the SMC Modern Languages and Cultures Department.

Alexander Hamilton High School senior Eddie Jones was presented the Saul Morrison Award. He is a 17-year-old who lives in Los Angeles with his mother and sister, and enjoys cooking, singing, wrestling, and just having a great time. Eddie is an aspiring entertainer and has his own record label. Next year, he plans to release his first single. In January 2022, he will take his first real-estate course with the anticipation of receiving his license before graduation. After graduation from high school, Eddie will attend Universal Technical Institute (UTI) to major in auto mechanics and custom design. Upon completion of UTI, he plans to open his own custom car design company. He has many goals to achieve, and he is eager to experience all that life has in store for him. The award for an essay that ‘demonstrates a passion for bridge-building, community, and leadership’ is presented to honor the memory and efforts of social activist Saul Morrison to secure equal opportunities for everyone.

Each year, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Westside Coalition invites schools, churches, and youth groups to encourage their college freshmen and high school seniors to submit an essay, poem, or other creative work that exemplifies the “Six Principles of Nonviolence” in Dr. King’s Stride Toward Freedom. The awards are supported by endowments established in memory of local community activists and managed by the Santa Monica College Foundation.

More information about the Education Awards and details on how to help support the awards are available by calling the SMC Foundation at 310-434-4215.

Submitted by Grace Smith, SMC