Westerville Central High School juniors Chloe Abernathy and Delaney Compson and Westerville North High School senior Dezmon Howard are recipients of the 2023 MLK Fouse Award, which was announced during the 17th annual Westerville Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Monday.
The three students, as well as their families, were on hand to receive the award from Superintendent Dr. John Kellogg during Leadership Westerville’s city-wide event at the Villa Milano Banquet and Conference Center. Monday’s celebration marked the return to an in-person event since the start of the pandemic.
“This award is more than just being a leader or standing up for other people,” Howard said. “It’s being a person who is good at reaching others and making a change in their community. It’s not for myself but it's for other people. This award goes to more than myself.”
Howard, who was nominated by Assistant Principal Shayna Wade-Argus, participates in a number of extracurricular activities including several focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. He is a member of WNHS’ Student Equity Committee and serves as vice president of the school’s Black Student Union.
Wade-Argus said Howard has emerged as a leader in the high school, balancing academics and athletics while maintaining positive relationships with his teachers and peers.
“He’s still very active and vocal about issues that impact students of color,” she said. “He doesn’t shy away from it.”
WCHS English teacher Susannah Lee nominated Abernathy and Compson for their advocacy work in their school community following the death of WCHS alumni Donovan Lewis. The two students launched a red ribbon campaign for WCHS students and staff to wear in honor of Lewis and his family. They organized a student-led walkout to support a call for justice — an event that led to discussions with the school’s Equity Council focused on finding ways for students’ voices to be heard and invoke positive change.
“I have been utterly impressed with the commitment and maturity they have shown and believe their willingness to challenge ideas, stand for their beliefs, and create positive change in the community exemplifies the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Lee said.
Abernathy and Compson said the recognition was unexpected but special.
“We won the award but I don’t think it’s about the award,” Abernathy said. “It’s about the work we did and what needs to be acknowledged going forward is that students, not just us, should be empowered to do this work.”
“It was very scary in the beginning…but other students should feel like they can. It’s not just about the present students but the future students who are going to come to Central should feel like they can be there.”
Compson said it was important to recognize a member of their Warhawks family.
“Not many people knew about it when it first happened so we really wanted to shine a light on how his death impacted all of us,” she said.
The MLK Fouse Award recognizes Westerville students in grades 6-12 who have demonstrated tolerance, respect for others and/or bravery in the face of adversity; or whose actions have inspired change in their school community and beyond. The award honors the memory of William H. Fouse, the first Black graduate of Westerville’s two-year high school in 1884. He earned an undergraduate degree from Otterbein College, a master’s from the University of Cincinnati and, later, an honorary doctorate from Otterbein. Fouse became an educator, serving as principal of the Paul Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky.