2019 Keeper of the Dream Award winners announced


MEMPHIS, Tenn. (National Civil Rights Museum Release) – The National Civil Rights Museum, in partnership with International Paper, recognizes youth who are making a difference and changing lives by awarding the Keeper of the Dream Award.

The 2019 award winners are Mia Elizabeth Adkins, Marissa Pittman, Brooklyn Johnson, 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 / Courtesy National Civil Rights Museum

Mia Elizabeth Adkins, a sixth grader at Herbert Carter Global Community Magnet School in Marion, AR, 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 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.

Marissa Pittman / Courtesy National Civil Rights Museum

Marissa Pittman, a senior at White Station High School, 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.

Brooklyn Johnson / Courtesy National Civil Rights Museum

Brooklyn Johnson, a senior at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, 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 day camps for the youth of Memphis. Brooklyn worked diligently during 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.

Risha & Krishnav Manga / Courtesy National Civil Rights Museum

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 their teamwork and perseverance, 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.

“The Keeper of the Dream is an opportunity for young people to be recognized for their outstanding work to make their communities better,” said National Civil Rights Museum President, Terri Lee Freeman.  “I so admire these young people who see a problem and don’t ask the question ‘why’ but ask the question ‘what do I need to do to make this better?’  These young people are not our future, but they are our today, and we are happy to recognize them and tell their stories.”

“The Keeper of the Dream award recognizes students who are making a positive and meaningful impact in the community,” said Bathsheba Sams, International Paper vice president, human resources, Industrial Packaging and National Civil Rights Museum board member. “This award celebrates their enthusiasm and reinforces that we can make a difference at any age.”

The recipients will be presented the Keeper of the Dream Award at the Freedom Award Student Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church at 10 a.m. Each winner will receive $500, a trophy and a one-year family membership to the National Civil Rights Museum, and two round-trip Southwest Airlines tickets, one for themselves and one for an adult, to fly the airline’s destinations in the continental U.S.

The Student Forum is the opening event for the National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award celebration which honors individuals worldwide for their work in the advancement of civil and human rights. This program allows students and educators the opportunity to hear from trailblazers fighting for civil and human rights.

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