The Keeper of the Dream Award celebrates and recognizes the heroism of many young people who have the amazing responsibility of safeguarding our freedom while ensuring equal rights and opportunities for others. Greater Memphis Area students in grades 6 – 12 who have demonstrated acts of compassion, leadership, commitment, and service are self-nominated or encouraged by educators and community leaders to apply. The recipients are presented the Keeper of the Dream Award at the Freedom Award Student Forum on Thursday, October 14, 2021.
Rheagan Crenshaw is currently a 12th grader at Hutchison School and she has demonstrated leadership through her involvement in her school’s She Leads Memphis, as well as, serving on the Teen Executive Board of the Jack and Jill of America, Memphis Chapter. Following the passing of her grandmother, Rheagan started Rheas of Hope, a volunteer initiative to encourage relationships that improve the quality of life of the elderly. Rheas of Hope creates volunteer opportunities that connect young students and seniors, including developing new ways to safely continue the program’s important relationships during the pandemic. As a member of Jack and Jill of America Teen Executive Board of the Memphis Chapter, she represented the chapter at the On The Hill Legislative Teen Summit in DC advocating for Police Reform, Voting Rights, Equality in Education and The Crown Act. She also participated in the organization’s Youth Town Hall to help teens learn the importance of voting and advocating.
Zahra Chowdhury is a 12th grader at Pleasant View School and not only is she a top student, but she is a Bridge Builder CHANGE youth fellow. For the last several years, Zahra’s work has focused on ending the school-to-prison pipeline. In her time with Bridge Builders CHANGE, she has been a member of the Education Justice cohort and most recently established, Counselors Not Cops program, to create safe spaces for students. The goal is to stop the number of students going directly in the juvenile justice system, a system that disproportionately affects black and brown students. The cohort has worked to remove sheriff officers from schools and replace them with mental health resources, including professionals who are trained to help students in need. This work has led her to become a part of the inaugural cohort of the Youth Justice Action Council as well as the youngest person to ever be appointed to a Shelby County position with the Countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium.
Due to the pandemic, the award was not presented in 2020. The 2019 award winners are Mia Adkins, Brooklyn Johnson, Marissa Pittman and siblings Risha and Krishnav Manga. These students serve by addressing key issues including resource and agency gaps, safe water access, political activism, and education equity and inclusion to provide support, leadership and empowerment to their peers and the community.
Mia Elizabeth Adkins is a sixth grader at Herbert Carter Global Community Magnet School in Marion, AR, and she is taking real and meaningful action to fight for equitable access to clean water in Central America. At school, Mia learned about United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6, Clean Water and Sanitation, and she realized that girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely as boys to spend their days fetching water instead of going to school. Mia refused to ignore this injustice, and she wanted to take action. She was persistent in discussing her idea with school administrators, drawing up a detailed plan of action, setting a goal, and finally getting approval to launch her Change for Change fundraising project. She set up spare change jars around campus and generated enthusiasm among her 620 classmates to raise over $2,000 – double the $1000 goal she set. Because of her leadership, persistence and desire to make a difference, her school provided twenty water wells to Central American families.
Risha Manga (ninth grade) and Krishnav Manga (eighth grade) are siblings who attend Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis. Together, they co-founded 901 PLEDGE, an effort for kids by kids to engage and give back to local and global communities. 901 PLEDGE arose from Risha’s and Krishnav’s individual passions. Risha turned her passion for crafting jewelry into compassion for others who are victims of inequality, and Krishnav’s love of reading has driven him to help refugee children achieve academic success through literacy. Through the teamwork and perseverance of these two siblings, 901 PLEDGE offers free tutoring services to underserved children, provides coding and math coaching, and sells handcrafted jewelry to raise money and awareness about food and education inequality. Risha and Krishnav are also active volunteers with Asha’s Refuge, which helps refugees achieve a successful resettlement in Memphis. They use their 901 PLEDGE platform to coordinate book drives, shoe drives and food drives for Asha’s Refuge, Mid-South Food Bank and other organizations. Through their engagement with classmates, Risha and Krishnav demonstrate true leadership in empowering and inspiring youth to volunteer and to fight education and food inequality.
Brooklyn Johnson is a senior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School and has dedicated herself to providing low-cost day camps for underserved children in Memphis. Recognizing a need for safe, affordable enrichment programs for children in the gap between when the school year ends and community summer programs begin, Brooklyn set out to find a solution. She founded Empower Memphis, a non-profit that provides low-cost days camps for the youth of Memphis. Brooklyn worked diligently over the course of her junior year to develop a 501(C)3 non-profit and to identify space at a local church to run a camp during the last week of May. She secured donations for food, rallied her classmates to volunteer, organized activities for the week, and successfully launched a camp for girls in grades K-8. Her efforts required hours of research and paperwork, all while balancing her schoolwork. Brooklyn is a true force for change, who not only sees a need but is motivated to take meaningful action, even when that action is not easy.
Marissa Pittman is a senior at White Station High School and has dedicated her high school years to encouraging young women of color to become involved in their community through political action. Recognizing that many young women appeared to be disengaged from the political process and desiring to see more diverse representation among elected officials, Marissa founded Pumps and Politics 901. As part of her participation in the Let’s Innovate through Education (LITE) Finalist Program, an entrepreneurship training effort for Memphis youth, Marissa spent over four hours per week nurturing Pumps and Politics 901 and amplifying the voices of young women of color in politics. Her program is successfully encouraging girls to run for office, to partner with elected officials, and to curate social media campaigns. Marissa’s courage, compassion and leadership has enabled her to impact over two thousand young people in Memphis and across the country. Her leadership and activism have earned her a nomination for a SPARK Award, praise from the Memphis City Council, and selection as a Bridge Builders CHANGE Fellow.