DETROIT (WXYZ) — Thursday afternoon, high school seniors from across the city of Detroit took part in a slam poetry competition and a poster contest with the chance to win $100,000 in college scholarship money.
This was all made possible by the Detroit Pistons Foundation.
Rick Mahorn and the Pistons started the annual Black History Month Scholarship Event in 2005. It started off being in a high school cafeteria and is now being held in the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Whether its art on stage or art on a poster, this year’s theme today was Black excellence.
“You don’t have to be from the east side, you don’t have to be from the west side -- you separate yourself. We get tired of separation,” Mahorn said.
The Pistons great, called the baddest of the Bad Boys but the best of people, says Black excellence is about encouragement.
“Understanding what’s Black, what’s white, what’s Mexican, what’s Asian, what’s Arabic, you have to make sure that you’re being inclusive with everybody,” Mahorn said. “If you try to define Black excellence, it’s being… the best you can be.”
In slam poetry, King Bethel from the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy won first place and a $25,000 scholarship.
“Truly, this is putting one foot in front of the other. This whole experience, just me being indulged into the arts and into what I love, my craft, it’s truly one of a kind,” Bethel said.
Leah Vaughn from University Prep Schools won $20,000 for best poster.
“I’m just overjoyed,” Vaugh said. “My mom is a single mother. She adopted me and my siblings, so things are really tight for us. I really don’t have that much money to spare.”
Vaugh is off to Michigan State University. Bethel is going to Berklee College of Music. For both, that kind of scholarship goes a long way.
“I felt relief because what I’ve been working so hard on all my life is coming to fruition,” Bethel said. “When I see my mom smiling and crying in the crowd… when I turned around, I felt what she was feeling.”
Black excellence is not just about who these artists are but who they want to become.
Vaughn says her poster’s subject is today’s typical Black woman.
“I want be her. That’s everything. She’s confident, she believing herself, she doesn’t care what other people say,” Vaugn said. I don’t think I’m her now, but I believe I will be her later.”