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Madison community will celebrate graduating seniors, welcome incoming freshmen scholars at annual Mann Scholars Celebration Saturday

Mann Scholars 2024 graduates will be celebrated on Saturday night at Tenney Park. (Clockwise from left):  Azahria Washington of Madison Memorial High School, Danielle Watson of Madison West High, Greg Smith Jr. of Madison East High School, and Rodney Gavins Jr. of Madison West  (Photos supplied.)

Mann Scholar students and their families, along with community members, will gather outdoors at the Tenney Park Pavilion on Madison’s East Side on Saturday, May 25, 5 p.m., to celebrate the achievements of new, current and graduating Mann Scholars at the annual Mann Scholars Celebration. 

The Mann Scholars Program was created to provide mentoring and educational tools to students from the Madison Metropolitan School District who show potential for academic achievement but face significant challenges to reaching their full potential.

At Saturday’s celebration, graduating Mann Scholars — Rodney Gavins Jr. of Madison West, Azahria Washington of Madison Memorial High School, Danielle Watson of Madison West High and Gregory Smith Jr. of Madison East High School — will talk about their experience in the Mann Scholars Program the past four years and about their academic dreams in higher education.

“I think that one of the best parts of the entire program is to hear from our graduating seniors about the impact that the program has on them and about where their general aspirations lie,” Maia Pearson, the program coordinator for the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund, tells Madison365. “This group of seniors, they want to flourish in ways that, to me, signifies the strength that they have. Some of our scholars are overcoming some tough, real-life situations and they were able to be resilient. Not only resilient, but they were able to continue to dream big.

“I think sometimes when life hits us in a way at a young age, it’s easy to fall into just surviving,” Pearson continues. “These young folks have really transcended that and they really want to thrive. And they’re looking forward to doing that and they are open to all of the opportunities that help them to thrive.”

The annual Mann Scholar Celebration is held at the John Wall Pavilion of Tenney Park on Madison’s East Side.
(Photo by David Dahmer)

 The Mann Educational Opportunity Fund is a scholarship that honors Bernard and Kathlyn Mann, long-time African-American residents of Madison whose strong belief in education helped ensure the graduation of their five children from Madison Memorial High School and later from universities. Every spring, the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund hosts a celebration for the graduating scholars where they also introduce new freshmen-to-be Mann Scholars to the community.

The new Mann Scholar freshmen for the coming 2024-2025 school year include London Williams of Hamilton Middle School, who will be attending Madison West in the fall; E’Yonna Jones of Whitehorse Middle School and Carlos Rodriguez of Badger Rock Middle School, who will be attending LaFollette High School; and Asiya Abdi of Ezekiel Gillespie Middle School, who will be attending Vel Phillips Memorial High School.

“We have four scholars coming in as freshmen. It will be great for people to meet the incoming freshmen and to hear their words of inspiration and aspiration. I’m excited about this coming year,” Pearson says.

“The Mann Scholars Program is in a really good place and I feel like we can definitely grow the program,” Pearson adds. “We still have a 100 percent graduation rate for the program. The majority of our scholars go to college. Some of our scholars go straight into the career path and have done really well for themselves.”



As the Mann Scholars graduate from high school, they are not exiting the program but rather becoming lifelong members of the Mann Family which has grown to hundreds of people over the years.

“Those seniors are not exiting. And I mean, we can see that through how Alisa recently showed up for our scholars to create the opportunity to dive deep into the work that she does,” Pearson says.  Dr. Alisa King-Klemperer, the first Mann Scholar student to go on and earn a PhD, is the communications manager at Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center and recently arranged a daylong tour of WIPAC for current Mann Scholar students. “That’s the part, to me, that is also the most rewarding about this job is that even as scholars graduate, they’re part of the family and they come back and want to be involved in various ways.”

This will be the second Mann Scholars graduation ceremony for Pearson, the vice president of the Madison Metropolitan School District and candidate for Wisconsin State Assembly District 78, who started her position as program coordinator in November of 2022.

“It’s exciting to see, after 25-plus years, how the Mann Scholars Program has morphed, and also to see some of those early scholars who are now adults and how they are actively maneuvering in our city,” Pearson says. “We have a lot of folks who are still here, a lot of folks who came back to live here and raise their families. And so it’s just really beautiful to see that.”

Beyond hearing from Mann Scholars both new and old, attendees will have a chance to learn more about the program and enjoy some food and drinks. Tenny Park Pavilion is located at 402 North Thornton Ave.

“We’re gonna have food provided by Melly Mel’s [Catering] again. We love to support small businesses and Black-owned businesses,” Pearson says. “Hedi [Rudd] will be our photographer again this year, and we love that because she always brings storytelling to her photos. Melly Mel’s brings the love and true nourishment. We’re really looking forward to this Saturday.”