LOS ANGELES -The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today announced that Tamika McDonald of Manual Arts High School is one of 12 high school seniors nationwide to be awarded a $4,000 college scholarship in recognition of her exceptional contributions to the struggle to defend civil liberties. The ACLU's College Scholarship for Youth Activism Award recognizes the efforts of graduating seniors who have demonstrated a strong commitment to civil liberties throughout their careers in secondary school.
"Every year, the ACLU of Southern California is lucky to have scores of students whose passion and dedication help us in the struggle to secure our civil liberties," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the ACLU/SC. "We are inspired by and proud of Tamika McDonald's energy, contributions and commitment to take on the struggle of defending civil liberties. Her commitment gives us faith that today's young people are dedicated to defending civil liberties and civil rights."
As a plaintiff in Williams v. California, the ACLU's landmark legal effort to reform California's failed and inequitable school system, Tamika helped to identify other students whose schools failed to participate in programs that would have guaranteed their top students admission to the state university system. While earning top grades at her school, Tamika also volunteered her time to work on ACLU campaigns, educated her peers about their rights, and served as president of her school's Amnesty International Club.
"The only way to demonstrate true citizenship is to know your rights and learn how to protect them and learn how to help others protect their rights," said Tamika, who will be attending College of the Holy Cross on a four-year scholarship this Fall.
According to the ACLU lawsuit, filed in August 2000, students at Tamika's school and many other schools in low-income areas or communities of color are learning under conditions that fall far below prevailing statewide standards.
In addition to participating in the lawsuit, since her junior year, Tamika has been helping incoming freshmen learn about the education resources available to them -- yet often never advertised -- such as honors classes and enrichment programs.
"Administrators and teachers are often ill-prepared to handle the complex life situations that many of my classmates face," said Tamika. "Counselors even discourage their students from taking honors classes and administrators fail to publicize opportunities that are available to us."
Tamika McDonald migrated with her mother to the United States from Guyana at the age of ten. In order to catch up with her classmates, she taught herself to read and write English using "Hooked on Phonics" tapes. By the time she reached the 10th grade, her commitment to academic excellence and community service led her to be selected by her school to participate in a pre-collegiate outreach program at the University of California at Berkeley, the nation's top public university.
In addition to Tamika, this year's other recipients hail from Northern California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Many of the students selected stood up for the rights of their peers by challenging the injustices inflicted upon them by school officials, created an ACLU chapter at their school or interned at the ACLU affiliate office in their state. In 2000, the first year of the program, the ACLU awarded scholarships to eight high school seniors.
"The ACLU's College Scholarship for Youth Activism Award gives us an opportunity to recognize the courage of students like Tamika and the example they set for their peers," said Nadine Strossen, President of the National ACLU. "It truly is an honor to be able to provide these intelligent, resourceful and committed young people with support for their education."
The ACLU College Scholarship program was made possible by a generous grant from an anonymous donor.