The YMCA of Greater Monmouth County presented $1,500 scholarships to local high school juniors Safa Mbarki from Middletown High School North and William Blake from Red Bank Regional High School, for their winning essays at the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration.
This year’s YMCA celebration honoring the life and legacy of the iconic civil rights leader took place on Jan. 14 and was hosted online for the second time due to the pandemic. Both students read their essays as part of an inspiring, hour-long program.
Mbarki titled her essay “A Chance,” which is about understanding and accepting cultural differences. She described her transition from attending a Muslim school to a public school in Monmouth County. Mbarki explained how she felt like an observer of a different culture until she took a chance, made new friends and became involved in school. She is now active in many school activities, including the Environmental Club, Key Club and Viewpoint Club, along with volunteering at her local mosque, preparing meals for the homeless.
Blake’s essay, “Engaging Across Differences,” describes how his Jamaican heritage provoked inquiry from fellow students. “I welcomed questions about my differences,” he said. “It helped educate others and helped me build relationships.” Blake, who is active in the school jazz band, shared how music helps break down barriers and brings people together. Blake tutors students in mathematics and volunteers for the Red Bank CROP Hunger Walk and his local church.
In addition to the $1,500 scholarships, sponsored by Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey Natural Gas and PorterPlus Realty, the students received a full-year membership to the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County branch of their choice.
To hear the students’ essays and view the MLK program, which also honored Rabbi Sally Priesand with the MLK Human Dignity Award for her lifelong commitment to social justice, visit ymcanj.org/mlk.