PN seniors win City of Kalamazoo social justice award

Astrid Code, News Editor

From left, Bolton, Clark, and Daniels are presented with the Lewis Walker Social Justice Award during the virtual city council meeting. (Screenshot)


Throughout the past year, the ongoing fight for social and racial justice has been brought to national and international attention. Recently, Governor Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed January 19 as the National Day of Racial Healing in Michigan, and more locally, the Kalamazoo City Commission met on January 19 to award several Youth Social Justice Awards. Seniors Makayla Bolton, Jamillah Clark, and Maya Daniels received one of the highest honors, the Dr. Lewis Walker Youth Social Justice Award, in recognition of their leadership of the Empowered Club, creating PPS diversity training videos, and more. 

“As part of recognizing Dr. King, the City of Kalamazoo recognizes outstanding youth that are truly living his values, and inspiring our community. Despite the pandemic, we are proud to continue that tradition,” said Mayor David Anderson. “This has been a year like no other, and the Dr. Lewis Walker Social Justice Youth Award this year is just that, like no other,” said Dr. Lewis Walker. “These ladies have demonstrated exemplary community and civic engagement as students at Portage Northern High School.” 

Bolton, Clark, and Daniels have been members of the Empowered Club and Black History Month assembly cast for four years, serving in various leadership roles to honor Black excellence and make the school a more inclusive place for students of all backgrounds. “I hope [the Empowered Club] continues to create change, that’s what we always have been and always will be about, being a non-toxic accepting place for all,” said Makayla Bolton. “None of us would be the people we are without this club or Ms. Thorpe and for that, I will be forever grateful.” 

In June, Bolton, Clark, and Daniels coordinated and hosted the now annual Juneteenth celebration and Black Lives Matter event for the first time. They also worked over the summer to create two training videos for PPS staff on diversity, inclusion, justice, and equity in the classroom. “I hope to see more diversity in the staff and admin at PN also in the things and people we learn about. In addition to that when learning about POC or events centered around them, the narrative tends to be monochromatic and only look at things at the surface level,” said Daniels.

They were nominated by Dr. Amanda Thorpe, Justin Sims, Chris Jones, Dr. James Houston, and the PNHS administrative team, who said they “are a trio of fierce social justice advocates and bold leaders. They have left a legacy of hope, and created a path toward a future of change.” Maya Daniels was also nominated by Mount Zion’s youth director, Morris Brooks. “The nomination echoes the accolades already presented, characterizing Maya as a harmonizing specialist, key leader, and model teenager with strong character,” said Walker. 

“I want to take a moment just to be humbled, and to recognize that here we are this evening, when we’ve had adults who have been not demonstrating adult behavior in this country, and young people that are showing us how we should treat each other, and what we should aspire to,” said Anderson. “So the tables have turned, and tonight we are recognizing young people, and that does indeed give me hope for our future together. Thank you young people, for the lives that you are leading and what you are showing to us and the rest of us this evening.” 

“Just like those who came before us, it is our duty to protect the children of this country and maintain communities in which they will all be given the opportunity to succeed,” said Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin in a proclamation on the National Day of Racial Healing. “If we all dedicate ourselves to the principles of truth, racial healing, and transformation, we can all bring about the necessary changes in thinking and behavior that will propel this great country forward as a unified force.”

“[Fighting for social justice is] important because it can be a matter of life or death sometimes, so any move we make can help change that and make life easier for everyone,” said Bolton. Daniels agreed. “Martin Luther King Jr. fought in hopes for a better nation for his kids and we are doing the same for our families. These are issues that affect everyone in some capacity and hold us back as a society and as people,” she said. “As long as you are willing to take the initiative to better yourself and your community you are headed on the right track.”