NORMAL – A Normal Community High School sophomore and a junior from Bloomington High School received honors as Youth Award Winners at the 44th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Banquet held Saturday in the Brown Ballroom of Illinois State University’s Bone Student Center. The event is co-sponsored by the Human Relations Commissions of the City of Bloomington and the Town of Normal.

Dhruv Rebba, son of Hari and Shailaja Rebba, attends NCHS and was honored by being awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Award for the Town of Normal. Kaylin Richards, daughter of Nikita Richards, was honored by being awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Award for the City of Bloomington.

About Dhruv Rebba: Rebba, an NCHS sophomore, is involved in a number of charitable causes, most notably founding a group called Universal Health Foundation. The mission of this not-for-profit organization is to find creative solutions to help improve peoples’ lives worldwide, he explained. The group, which he founded in December 2018 has raised funds and given textbooks to seven different schools in India, schools he explained are in rural areas and below that country’s poverty line.

In addition to the books, Rebba explained, the non-profit has been able to provide the school with digitalization, a projector, a computer, and, as Rebba describes it, “an unobstructed power supply.” Money from family, friends, and matching grants in India paid for what has been provided to the school thus far, Rebba added. He said he is doing this while still taking honors and advanced placement classes at NCHS. “I just have to manage my time,” he explained about being able to do this while still in school.

Rebba said he also helping with an after-school Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM program for elementary school students in the community as well. He said the goal of that program is to draw youngsters’ interest in STEM at an early age.

About Kaylin Richards: Kaylin Richards is a junior at Bloomington High School is a volunteer for Bloomington-based Project Oz, serving on the group’s youth action board as well as being involved with the West Bloomington Revitalization Project. “With the action board at Project Oz, I do a lot with substance abuse prevention activities,” Richards explained. She also helps with the Veggie Oasis Project, bringing vegetables into sections of Bloomington where groceries are not close at hand. The Veggie Oasis Project is another Project Oz operation.

She wants to attend either Tuskegee University or Arizona State University where she desires to major in history education to help her pursue her dream of becoming a history teacher. She said she reached that conclusion having been taught by some of her BHS history teachers. “All the history teachers I have had a BHS have inspired me,” Richards said.

“I read a lot when I was younger and I have always been interested in the deeper meaning of where things come from,” Richards added. “It has just kind of stayed with me.”

Elaine Hill Awarded Normal’s Adult “King” Honor: Normal and Bloomington each also presented an adult with a Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, also based on nominations, as were the teen honorees. Normal’s adult honoree is Elaine Hill. Hill is a long-time board member of the Cultural Festival, something she has been involved with almost from the beginning of her living in Normal, having been with the festival for 40 years. She also volunteers with the Coalescence Theatre Project, and is a member of the board for the McLean County Museum of History. In addition, she is also involved with the Bloomington-Normal Black History Project.

Karen Schmidt Awarded Bloomington’s Adult “King” Honor: Bloomington’s adult honoree is Karen Schmidt, a retired Illinois Wesleyan University librarian. Schmidt volunteers with the “Not In Our Town” initiative, West Bloomington Revitalization Project, and the Book Bike. Schmidt served five terms on Bloomington’s City Council, and was a YWCA Women of Distinction award recipient in 2002.

Author/Lecturer Aaron Vessup Delivers Keynote: After the award winners were announced and introduced to the gathering, those in attendance heard from Aaron A. Vessup, who served as the very first human relations coordinator for the City of Bloomington. Mixing personal experience stories with humor that added a lesson mined from such stories, Vessup spoke of the human experience young blacks often encountered when he was a coming-of-age youth during the turbulent days when blacks were fighting for equal rights in the 1960s.

“Today, I would like to tell you how we define friends or how we define enemies,” Vessup said. He encouraged those in attendance to keep in mind who they are and from where they have received their values. He added his home life as a youngster and young man shaped the individual he has become, and encouraged the youth in the audience as well as the adults to keep in mind those same things as they proceed on in this life.

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