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updated: 1/23/2014 7:49 PM

Six Hundred Attend Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast

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COD News Bureau

Six hundred business, education and community leaders gathered at Benedictine University in Lisle to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 19th annual MLK Breakfast on Monday, Jan. 20. Click here to view photos of this event.

During this event, cohosted by College of DuPage and Benedictine University and sponsored by Nicor Gas, Executive Vice President of College of DuPage Joseph Collins acknowledged COD's reputation for a continuing commitment to diversity.

"The African American population in DuPage County is between 4 and 5 percent," Collins said. "At College of DuPage, 8 percent of our student population is made up of African Americans. We're proud of this statistic and will continue to reach out to this community."

Collins announced a new initiative undertaken by the College aimed at improving outreach support and community engagement of African American students. The newly formed Center for Diversity and Inclusion at COD will work toward increasing enrollment, retention and success of African American students at College of DuPage, Collins said.

During his keynote speech, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Timothy W. Goodly noted that the celebration of Dr. King's birthday is not just about recognizing the legacy of a great man, but also about recognizing the everyday heroes that continue to pursue his dream.

"Nearly 46 years after Dr. King's death, we acknowledge that through his dynamic presence, powerful words and courageous actions, he not only walked the heroes journey, but he served as a catalyst and encouraged so many others to stand up, cast their fears aside and make bold and daring contributions to a social revolution that transformed America," Goodly said.

Goodly also acknowledged to the audience, which included Illinois State Senator Tom Cullerton, as well as the mayors of Lisle, Naperville and Woodridge, that though there has been much progress since the time of Dr. King, there is still more to be done.

"Our challenge remains today to look within ourselves and ignite the heroes within," Goodly said. "We must overcome our petty desires, fears, social pressures and live the lives we were supposed to live. Each of us now has a unique journey to make and each of us is challenged to make our own special contribution to our family, to our community and to the larger society."

Benedictine University president William Carroll also called on attendees to "let the quiet heroes step out" to "make a difference."

A portion of the proceeds of the MLK Breakfast support the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund. College of DuPage students Zachee N. Saleng and Virginia JoAnn Watson, and Benedictine University students Deborah O. Afiriyie and Elaina F. Craven, who transferred to Benedictine from COD in 2013, were announced as this year's scholarship winners.

Saleng, who came to the U.S. three years ago from his native Cameroon to seek a better life, first enrolled in the ESL program at College of DuPage which paved the way for his entrance into the Engineering program at the College. In the essay he submitted for the scholarship, Saleng wrote that "the circumstances under which I came to this country are very different than the way the first Africans came to the United States. I believe that because of leaders like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am able to go to school and have the same rights as everyone else and be free."

During the ceremony, Saleng said COD provided a "perfect fit" that helped him adjust to his new life in the U.S. and follow his dream.

"When I first came to this country, I wasn't sure if I would survive because I didn't know anyone here," Saleng said. "COD welcomes people from all over the world, so I thought 'this is just what I need.'"

Watson, who came to College of DuPage to study psychology after 30 years as a legal secretary, has since earned a 4.0 grade point average and was recently invited join the Phi Theta Kappa international honor society. Splitting her time between her job, volunteering and classes, Watson said that the lessons and the legacy of Dr. King have inspired her to continue to reach for her dream. She went on to describe her experience at the College as "an amazing and rewarding journey."

"Though I had many choices, I am proud to be a student at College of DuPage," Watson said. "As a late bloomer and a legal secretary, it was extremely important for me to choose a college that had a respectable standing in the field of education, who employed only highly-educated and qualified professors, and offered constructive programs that could challenge me and prepare me for my career in the field of psychology. I have not been disappointed."