Photos by Jon-Mychal Cox
On the evening of Friday, June 9th in Berkeley the warm, golden glow of community pride and multi-colored balloons beckoned people into Hotel Shattuck Plaza to gather, recognize, and celebrate local youth who are the embodiment of Turning Lives Around. It was the 4th Annual BOSS Rising Stars Youth Leadership Scholarship Gala!
Despite an NBA finals game, there was a great crowd full of high spirits and love ready to shower on our youth! The Sharp 7 ensemble from the Berkeley High jazz program serenaded guests as they entered, found seats, and visited the delicious dinner buffet provided by Hotel Shattuck Plaza. Then Mistress of Ceremonies for the 4th year in a row, Leslie Stovall, welcomed us once again to celebrate youth in our community who do not typically get recognized for the steep hills they are climbing, followed by a brief video* with interviews from youth, and special messages from Berkeley Mayor Jessie Arreguin (our original keynote, he had been called away to an international mayor’s conference in Barcelona Spain!), Mike Chilton of Berkeley Stamp & Engraving Company, and sponsor (and superstar realtor) Roman Fan (*video created by Malaga Smith, Jeremy Bunch, and Gwen Austin).
Pastor Tanisha of The Way in Berkeley shared a message of unity and perseverance, followed by a special Gratitude Award given to Sophina Jones from Berkeley High School. Sophina works with homeless and at-risk youth at the High School, making sure they have the support and resources they need to stay on track despite what they are going through in or outside of school. Her special brand of keeping-it-real honest feedback plus loving encouragement is something the youth and families treasure – and we wanted to let her know! Having been through similar challenges herself as a youth, said Sophina through tears, “I just want to give to them the support that was given to me.”
State Senator Nancy Skinner shared her admiration for all Rising Stars, and for the work being done by BOSS to serve low-income families and individuals in our community. Not many people knew this, Senator Skinner said, but “there was a short time long ago when I lived out of my car” so she knew in her heart what these youth are going through. This was followed by a stirring poem grounded in personal experience shared by 2017 Rising Star Dionte Jackson-McFarland, and keynote remarks by Berkeley City Council Member Kriss Worthington who shared his own journey to rise above similar challenges. This was the theme of the night — you never know what someone has been through: many of us have been through the type of hardships faced by Rising Stars and have risen above. Just as our Rising Stars are doing!
A unique and inspiring guest speaker who joined us all the way from Dallas Texas was Odessa Jones – player and co-founder of the Dallas Elite Women’s Tackle Football Team! From her own experience growing up in Watts, California with a single mom of four, Odessa was drawn to the Rising Stars’ stories and wanted to help encourage their journeys. She shared a parabole of a boy who found himself at the bottom of a well, trapped with no one to help. In fact, people came by and thew garbage in the well. So he stepped up, on top of the garbage. They thew more trash. And he stepped up. They threw more. And he stepped up. Until he rose right of his predicament to freedom. She told the audience that when the world throws trash on you, that’s what you do – “Step up!”.
The audience was then treated to a beautiful, moving performance by local songwriter-singer-performer Desirae Harp, who shared her belief that “We are all connected – no matter what our struggles are or what culture we are from. We are in this together.”
And finally, it was time to celebrate our guests of honor – the 2017 Class of Rising Stars! Their biographies are below. Not all of them were able to attend, because of family, work or other commitments, but those that joined us treated us to huge smiles and happy dances on stage as they received their plaques (from BOSS and Berkeley Stamp & Engraving), Certificates of Achievement (from Berkeley Mayor Jessie Arreguin, State Senator Nancy Skinner, and State Assemblymen Tony Thurmond and Bill Quirk), and gift bags containing items from Pixar, Whole Foods, AC Transit, and BOSS, including an RCA 7″ Android tablet! Four youth (selected by the nominating agencies – BOSS, BHS, BTA, and BYA) were then presented with $1,000 educational scholarships by BOSS Executive Director Donald Frazier.
Rising Stars is a unique, collaborative effort between BOSS, Berkeley High School (BHS), Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA), and Berkeley Youth Alternatives (BYA) to identify youths facing adversities within their immediate family such as homelessness, criminal justice involvement, addiction, and serious health issues. These youth are being honored because they are not giving up! They continue to strive toward, and achieve, success!
Rising Stars will be back next year!!! To get involved with the 2018 Rising Stars event – as a sponsor, donor, performer, or planning team member – contact Sonja at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 649-1930 x 1008.
Thank you to our SPONSORS!!!