It’s barely daybreak and the wind chill has dipped well below zero. Still, more than 1,000 people bundled up to brave the cold and celebrate outstanding students who are making strides in their classrooms and communities across Dane County.

For the past 36 years, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Recognition Breakfast, organized by the Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM), has been gathering educators, parents, elected officials and community leaders together to embrace Dr. King’s vision and mission. The sold-out event also spotlights young people who are exceeding in academics, are role models in their schools and volunteer their time in the community.

“Inspiration, blended with the texture of real life, connects these honorees to Dr. King,” said Beth Steffen, principal of Edgewood High School, the host site of the Youth Recognition Breakfast. “His words, his example, his vision help make us better even 91 years and 52 years after his birth and death.” 

Described as resilient, hopeful, witty and life-tested, 285 middle and high schoolers were honored for their commitment to making being the leaders in their schools and neighborhood and being “drum majors for justice.” 

Additionally, the 2020 Betty Franklin-Hammonds Scholarships was presented; the Madison Metropolitan School District announced their 2020 Mann Scholars; and, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority recognized their 2020 Creative Writing contest winners.

 “As we celebrate Dr. King this year, let’s pay attention to the things he emphasized such as having a dream,” said Dr. Ruben L. Anthony Jr., president and CEO of the ULGM. “Let’s encourage our children to dream. Let’s also exercise our right to vote.”

Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Wisconsin’s first African American state superintendent, said too often the media showcases the youth in negative terms. Making mistakes is a natural process of growing up. Instead of condemning them, adults should guide and support them, she said.

“Congratulations to all of our scholars who are being honored here today,” Stanford Taylor said. “We’re here to celebrate you, your accomplishments, your dedication, your resilience and your commitment to excellence. What you’re doing and who you are at this time in your life is critical and sets the foundation for what is to come. The possibilities are endless. I applaud you.”

A highlight of the Youth Recognition Breakfast included the presentation of the 2020 Betty Franklin-Hammonds Scholarships. The winners are Alana Caire, Savannah Lee, Fayth Chambers, Camille Miles, and Tamiya Smith. Each awardee received a $750 scholarship. 

The award was created to honor one of Madison’s most dynamic and visionary leaders, Betty Franklin-Hammonds, a civil rights activist and past executive director of the Madison Urban League. With her passing in April 1999, this scholarship was started through a generous endowment from the Madison Community Foundation with subsequent gifts added by friends, family and people in the community.  

The Betty Franklin-Hammonds Scholarship rewards the accomplishments of graduating seniors seeking to further their education beyond high school, with special attention given to those who have faced economic and/or social obstacles on their journey to educational advancement. 

Additionally, the Madison Metropolitan School District handed out their 2020 Mann Scholars and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority recognized their 2020 Creative Writing contest winners.