University News

Gwendolyn Brooks Awards Presented to Four WIU Students

May 11, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – Four Western Illinois University students graduating in May 2022 have received the Gwendolyn Brooks Leadership Award. The awards were presented during WIU's Black Graduation celebration April 28 on the WIU campus, hosted by the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center (GBCC) and the Multicultural Center (MCC).

"We are so very proud of our inaugural Gwendolyn Brooks Leadership Award recipients. They have gone above and beyond during their time here to ensure that their voices are heard and that things change for the better," noted MCC Associate Director Carl Ervin. "We appreciate these, and all of our students, for their continued advocacy and activism. We wish all of our students the very best as they venture forth."

The Gwendolyn Brooks Leadership Award are given annually to selected graduating students who embody Gwendolyn Brooks through kindness, ambition, honesty and activism. Brooks' daughter, Nora Brooks Blakely, was instrumental in defining the award criteria.

"Congratulations to Victor, Shakyria, Brian and Kywn for their leadership and activism," said MCC Director Rocio Ayard Ochoa. "Their legacy will continue to live on and contributions felt for years to come."

2022 recipients include:

Victor Akinyemi, senior biological sciences-pre medicine major from South Holland (IL).

His nominator wrote: Victor is an active student, serving as a member of the WIU Centennial Honors College; the National Society of Collegiate Scholars; the National Society of Leadership & Success; the Phi Eta Sigma Honors Society; the Pre-Professional Health Club; the Black Male Achievement Network; the Christian Faith Campus Ministries; and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. Among his many accomplishments: serving as Treasurer for the African Student Association; participating in Undergraduate Cancer Research; being an MCC Mentor; being a member of the WIU Football Team; named WIU African Student Association's Mr. Africa 2020; serving as a WIU Food Pantry volunteer; volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America; volunteering as a Peer Buddy at the The Crossing Church); serving as a Dance Marathon Ambassador; and recognized on both the Dean's List and Honor Roll. Victor will continue his medical studies at the University of Iowa.

Shakyria Bailey, senior political science major from Beach Park (IL).

Her nominator wrote: Shakyria is president of the Black Student Association (BSA), and also served as an MCC Ambassador. She has demonstrated outstanding leadership and accomplishment as the president of the Black Student Association (BSA) and has served as a voice for change. She represented the BSA and other organizations in meetings with former WIU Interim President Abraham, current WIU President Huang, WIU Interim Provost Billy Clow, WIU Board of Trustee members, and numerous other members of the WIU faculty and staff. She has been a member of the Ethnic Racial and Gender Studies (ERGS) committee and the sub-committee African American Studies. Shakyria cares about students and about WIU and worked to create a better environment and opportunities for success. In her work with BSA, Shakyria has been a resource for creating institutional awareness and change, creating dialogue and clear communication, and promoting and empowering the leadership skills within her fellow executive board members and other student leaders on campus. As a leader, she willingly accepted and continued to endure the challenge and the criticisms that comes with being the visible figure who brings the difficult questions to the forefront and does not shy away from advocating for what is right for her fellow students and for WIU. She helped an organization that had the memory of being a successful support system and programming resource to regain its status as an actively engaged and prominent force on campus. Among her many accomplishments: The 11 items on the list of demands that the BSA presented to the WIU administration have been addressed and change has been made or is under way, including three of the larger items: African American Studies returning as a degree program, University Communications has, and will continue to, respond to negative/false images by the press that unfairly spotlight African American students and the University Union Board will work to bring greater diversity to its programming. Prominent events that Shakyria organized include the Police Brutality March, the March for Jelani Day, several Black History Month programs and the get-the-discussion-going video "Black at WIU." She has also served as a resident assistant and been a highly visible and actively engaged member of the WIU community who cares about creating a better place for all and will continue her advocacy when she becomes a lawyer.

Brian Jackson, recreation, park and tourism administration graduate student and graduate assistant for the GBCC, and a 2020 WIU management graduate, from Chicago.

His nominator wrote: In addition to programming events that celebrated African American/Black culture and identity, Brian advised three student organizations: Black Student Summit, Christian Faith Campus Ministries and Picture Perfect Modeling Troupe. Brian is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and is the former president of the WIU Black Student Association. Among his many accomplishments: coordinated the MCC scheduling system; coordinated Feel Good Fridays, an event held each month to provide unique experiences that fostered a sense of community and caring; organized Barber Shop Talk, an event where Black males gathered to share their stories and develop support networks; and served as a role model, inspiration, supporter and mentor to innumerable students and student organizations.

Kwyn Townsend-Riley, College Student Personnel graduate student and graduate assistant for the GBCC from Chicago.

Her nominator wrote: In addition to programming events that celebrated African American/Black culture and identity, Kywn advised three student organizations: Black Student Association, Cultural Expression and the NAACP. Kwyn is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Among her many accomplishments: scheduling Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx to deliver the GBBC Black Graduation keynote address; creating impactful programming including the Gwendolyn Girls' Retreat; Ancestors Watching, an event to showcase student organizations and performances; Beautifully Wrapped, an event to highlight culture and hair; and serving as an highly visible advocate, mentor and advisor to students, student leaders and student organizations. In addition, Kywn is a poet, speaker and organizer. Her first poetry album "And She Worthy" won Chicago Reader's Best of Chicago 2021: New Poetry Released by a Chicagoan award.

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