Two Bloomington-Normal teenagers will be awarded for their commitment to making the town a better place at the 44th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Luncheon on Saturday.
One of them is Kaylin Richards, a junior at Bloomington High School who was shocked when she found out she had won the award.
"I thought it was just a nomination letter, so I'm like, 'Oh that's fantastic!' I read and handed it back to my mom, but she said, ‘Well you have to look a little harder,' so I looked and it said that I was nominated and won. That changed the game," Richards said. "I was very happy, grateful, and completely honored.”
The awards recognize the achievements of individuals who have made outstanding contributions in human relations in Bloomington-Normal. Saturday’s luncheon at Illinois State University is sponsored by Bloomington and Normal Human Relations Commissions.
Outside of her bright personality, Richards’ history of volunteerism is a big reason why she was nominated. Her service record includes organizations such as the Chicago Area Project (CAP), Project Oz’s Youth Action Board, and the West Bloomington Revitalization Project’s Veggie Oasis.
One of her favorites is a social justice project started by her and a partner through the Illinois Art Station’s Teen Collective, which brought awareness to issues faced by members of the black community. The art project was on display at ISU for several days.
“In the exhibit, we had different elements representing struggles such as suicide, incarceration, and other things we go through on a daily basis," Richards said. "People reacted very well, and we were surprised because the exhibit itself was kind of loud and you had to think about it. Many people got emotional during the forum, and the feedback was amazing.”
In addition to advocating for social justice, Richards is an anti-bullying ambassador for the Chicago Area Project. Nominated by state Rep. Dan Brady, Richards said she was passionate about participating in the project because of her own experiences.
"I was bullied when I was younger. I'm not afraid to say it," she said. "During that time, we toured the state capitol, came up with different protests, and my mom helped me come up with activities to bring kids to my home and make them feel included when they felt alone and like nobody understood what they were going through."
Reflecting on the meaning of the award and who Dr. King was, Richards said being recognized for her activism reminds her to never forget her beginning.
"I remember visiting the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., and I sat, and it was just a moment of reflection," Richards said.
"Dr. King modeled deep listening for both moral reasoning and logical strategy. Everything he did to build his legacy really paved the way for me and it reminds me daily to remember why I started because I feel like so many people, including myself, can get caught up in just trying to build a resume and getting our name out there, but we have to remember why we started this, to build a better future for all people,” she said.
In the future, Richards said she plans to attend Tuskegee University, a historically black college, majoring in history education with a minor in politics and government.
"As a major in history education, I could go into teaching and follow my passion by helping people connect the dots from history to their present-day," she said.
Until then, she plans to make the most out of her high school experience during her time in Bloomington, being optimistic about the future, and staying active in the community.
“I recognize that although one person can start a movement, it's best effective when there's a collaborative effort to push the momentum. In chaotic times like this I latch on to what I know best, my faith, and I recognize that better days are ahead.”
This year’s other MLK youth award winner is Dhruv Rebba of Normal. You’ve heard him on WGLT several times before, including in 2019 when he was named the Amateur Radio Newsline Young Ham of the Year for his outstanding work in amateur radio. Dhruv, a sophomore at Normal Community High School, is also a volunteer and/or member of YMCA/YWCA, Illinois 4-H, Multicultural Leadership Program (MCLP), National Computer Science Honor Society, and First Robotics.
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