Outstanding students from the Madison Metropolitan School District and surrounding area schools were recently honored at the Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links’ annual African American Student Recognition/Scholarship Program, which was a virtual Zoom event this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think this event has really become part of the fabric of our community,” Judge Nia Trammell, vice president of Madison Metropolitan Chapter of The Links, tells Madison365. “I don’t think that you’ll see any other celebration of African-American students and talent as large as what The Links does. It is highly anticipated. And what I find so remarkable is that we can follow students from the time they are in elementary school until they have fully blossomed in high school. 

“I know that this year’s program there was a young woman that we were honoring as a senior in high school and I remember her getting an award at Gompers [Elementary School],” she continues. “It is the type of event that I believe motivates students and rewards students in such a positive way. It’s a beautiful event.”

Traditionally, The Links’ African-American Student Recognition Program honors hundreds of students from all grades in an event that has been taking place for more than two decades. 

“Even though we had to scale back the event because it was virtual this year, I think that it was really important and the students took it very seriously,” Dr. Corinda Rainey-Moore, the recording secretary for the Madison Links and the co-chair for their Services to Youth Committee, tells Madison365. “I think that the students and their families really do appreciate this event and are so moved by it … not just the awards and the scholarships, but the support that they felt throughout the event.”

Dr. Angela Byars Winston was the emcee for the Madison Metropolitan Chapter of Links Inc 2021 Student Recognition/Scholarship Program (Photo: Zoom)

Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, professor of internal medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was the emcee of the event.

“I thank our chapter of The Links for acknowledging that academic excellence is the pathway forward to success,” Byars-Winston said. 

Byars-Winston quoted Maya Angelou saying that “success is liking yourself, liking what you do and how you do it.”

“I want you to keep that in your spirit as you think about what we are celebrating today. The most important standard is: Are you happy with yourself? Have you pushed yourself to your maximum? We thank each one of you for giving us the opportunity to celebrate each one of you today,” Byars-Winston said.

With the pandemic and the Zoom environment, the celebration was limited this year to high school students who were recognized in two different areas: Student Recognition and Scholarship Recipients.

“The students that we were recognizing for the ‘Student Recognition’ part of the program were students who were nominated in two different categories – academic growth and outstanding initiatives,” Rainey-Moore said. “We also had the category of the ‘Scholarship Recipients’ which was selected by the scholarship committee. Vivian Larkin was the chair of this committee.”

Sixteen students were honored in the “Student Recognition” portion of the event by Camille Carter, the co-chair of the Services to Youth Committee that helps organize the annual event including Adeja Shannon, Lamontae Burrell, Rayna Cunningham, Travona Jordan of Madison Memorial High School; Alayna Tucker, Josh Porter of Madison East High School; Amaya Stanley, Natalie McDonald, Evelyn Walker and Rayanna Alexander of Madison La Follette High School; Fiona Cranley of Madison West; Ebba Harrison and Theodore Gilmore Jr. of Waunakee High School; Joelle Browne and Olivia Moore of Edgewood High School; Lensa Hamda and Kersy-Angela Abongwa of Verona High School; Muhammed Kambi of Cottage Grove High School.

The Links asked the families who were present at the Zoom event to put the graduation stoles across the shoulders of their students. 

Eighteen scholarships were awarded in the “Scholarship Recipients” portion of the event, which was announced by Link Linda Scott. Due to the generous contributions of individuals and businesses alike, The Links annually award scholarships to college-bound African-American students residing in the Greater Madison and Beloit areas and have been able to award more than $150,000.00 in scholarships since 1985.

This year’s scholarship recipients were Daevion Reed and Cesar Chavarria of Capital High School; Aaliyah Espinoza and Diana Song of Clark Street Community School; Ova Nwanko and Kira Ham of Edgewood School; Izzabella Moore and Robyn Ryan of Waunakee School; Romari Bennett and Copper Daniel of Memorial High School; Jayda Woods and Natalie McDonald of La Follette High School; Ashlie Hewitt and Nicole Adams of Madison East High School and Chytearria Burks and Demond Thompson of Madison West High School.

Martinez White provided the Links event with some pre-recorded motivational and inspirational music for the young people that was played throughout the event.

The Madison Metropolitan Chapter of Links has committed its membership and resources to educational, civic, and intercultural programs and projects designed to enhance the academic achievement of K-12 students of African descent in the greater Madison and Beloit metropolitan areas. A major force in the community for almost four decades, The Links are already looking towards the future as they will begin to host community events in-person like they once did before the pandemic.

“We’ve been doing strategic planning around how we can have sustainable programming. I think the community can expect from The Links in the future activities and events the really tap into community needs based upon the different facets that we offer,” Trammell says. 

Traditionally, The Links host their signature Jazz Brunch event in late October or November, which may be a virtual event this year, Rainey-Moore says. The scholarships that The Links give out to students are fueled by donations from events like the Jazz Brunch, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

“We were still able to fundraise, despite not hosting the Jazz Brunch,” Rainey-Moore says. “We might not have been able to raise as much money as we typically do, but there are so many people in the community who are huge supporters of The Links that still decided to give because they know how important those scholarships are.”

For those interested in donating to scholarships, you can do so by clicking here.

“The reason we were able to give out those 18 scholarships this year was because people were so generous last year during the pandemic,” Rainey-Moore says. “We did find ways to do fundraising, even though we couldn’t do it in person, because we know it meant a lot to our students to be able to continue their education. We also know that there was going to be more of a need given the pandemic and how it impacted so many families.”