The Mann Scholars Program celebrates at a Mann Graduation Ceremony at Tenny Park. (Photo by David Dahmer)

“High school was a huge challenge for me to get through but I take pride in the fact that when I slipped, I had my Mann Family to fall back on,” said Francine White, a 2020 graduate of Prairie View A&M, a public historically Black land-grant university in Prairie View, Texas. “Being a part of this program definitely opened a door to a world that I may have never seen without it.”

White shared some of her experiences and her wisdom with younger Mann Scholars as the featured speaker at the Annual Mann Scholar Celebration June 4 at the John Wall Pavilion of Tenney Park on Madison’s east side.

White was selected to be a Mann Scholar in 2012 and graduated from Madison Memorial High School in 2016. As a first-generation college student, she graduated from Prairie View A&M in December of last year. As Mann Scholars do every year at the annual celebration, White returned to offer advice and wisdom to the Mann Scholar graduates celebrated at the event as well as the new Mann Scholar freshmen who are getting set to embark on their educational journey.

“I encourage the new freshmen class to make the most out of these next four years. Get familiar with your goals, do your best to chase them and never be afraid to ask for help along the way,” White said. “I want to also congratulate the class of 2021 graduates. You have surpassed an incredible milestone. Whether your journey keeps you near or takes you far, I encourage you to keep climbing the ladder to success.”

The Annual Mann Scholar Celebration was held June 4 at the John Wall Pavilion of Tenney Park on Madison’s east side.

It was a packed house at the John Wall Pavilion of Tenney Park as the Mann Family converged – current and former scholars, Mann Scholar staff and board members — along with community members — to celebrate young people and their educational success. The special mission of the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund is to provide mentoring support and educational tools primarily, but not exclusively, to students of color from the Madison Metropolitan School District who show potential for academic achievement, but face significant economic and personal challenges in reaching their full potential.

Mark Richardson, Mann board co-chair, gave the introductions at the event introducing Angela Davis, development director of the Madison Community Foundation, who gave the welcoming address. 

“For over 12 years, Madison Community Foundation has been honored to work with the Mann Scholars Program. We store and oversee the investments of the funds that donors give to support the program,” Davis said. “Think about us as a bridge that connects donors to the causes they love. That’s what we do.

The 2020 Mann Scholars, who just finished up their freshman year of high school, included (L-r) Rodney Gavins Jr. of Madison West, Azahria Washington of Madison Memorial High School, Danielle Watson of Madison West High and Greg Smith Jr. of Madison East High School.    (Photo by A. David Dahmer)

‘To the Mann Family, donors, scholars, alumni and many others from the village who have willingly given their time, talent and treasure to this program, we say ‘thank you,’” Davis added. “The lives of students and their families are being changed forever. They see the success and impact of this program over the past 20 years and they choose to pay it forward.”

Davis pivoted to address the Mann Scholars – both the high school graduates and the new Mann Scholars — and told them that “your education is something that no one can ever, ever, ever take away from you.”

“Let your light shine and don’t let any circumstance or person stop you from accomplishing your goals and making all of your dreams come true,” she said. “You got this. Know that you are our future and that everyone here believes in you.”

Becky Mann announced the 2020 Freshman Scholars who were unable to be honored last year at an annual celebration because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They included Rodney Gavins Jr. and Danielle Watson of Madison West High School, Greg Smith Jr. of Madison East High School and Azahria Washington of Madison Memorial High School.

Mann Program Coordinator Pahoua Thao announced the new 2021 Mann Scholars that included Nadia Ayeni of Hamilton Middle School, Chaniyah Bell of O’Keeffe Middle School and Devon Wells of Spring Harbor Middle School.

Mann Scholars coordinator Amy Wallace touted the Mann Scholars 100 percent graduation rate over the years.

Travona Jordan, a Mann Scholar who recently graduated from the STEM Academy at Memorial High School (left) with Pahoua Thao, Mann Program Coordinator

“I have been very fortunate to be a part of this since 1999. I started as a volunteer and they so kindly kept me on to keep working with young people. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with every single young person and family in this room,” Wallace said. “Thank you for allowing me into your space every year.”

Wallace and Thao honored the senior class of the 2021 Mann Scholars that included Calise Howard and Ke’Sean Homesly of Madison La Follette High School, Travona Jordan of STEM Academy and Madison Memorial High School and Tyrone Stevenson of Madison West High School.

Annual Mann Scholar Celebration then spent some time remembering Lori Mann Carey, the former Mann Board co-chair who had been a tireless advocate for students and an instrumental part of the Mann Scholars Program since its inception. Mann Carey passed away in November of 2020.

“It’s hard for me to be here today without her because she was a really important part of this program. She was one of the biggest cheerleaders. She was always telling students they could do it,” Wallace said. “She never doubted anyone or anything and I try to carry that with me every single day.”

Wallace introduced Mann Carey’s children — Terrence, Ciera and Terrell — shared remembrances of their mom and who presented the graduating high school Mann Scholars with very special homemade gifts in her name.

Francine White, a 2020 Prairie View A&M Graduate, gives her Mann Scholar Alumni Reflections at Annual Mann Scholar Celebration at Tenney Park June 4.

The event closed with emotional words from White, the featured speaker for the event.

“Never let your obstacles define you,” White said. “Every obstacle that you will face, you will overcome. It’s important to make connections that utilize your resources. Your introduction to the Mann Scholar Program is a lifetime support program. We do not go away after your four years of high school are done.

“I want to express my gratitude to the Mann Family and this incredible opportunity and give a small tribute to Lori Mann-Carey,” she added. “For those who knew her, she had the most contagious smile and warm hugs and she would be at the front row at almost every event ready to hug every student and was so proud of every student. I want us to all continue to be proud of ourselves …. the way that Lori would. From the alumni to the incoming scholars, us chasing our dreams and giving back to our communities is everything that Mama Carey would have wanted from us.”