Freedom Award Student Forum | National Civil Rights Museum

Freedom Award Student Forum

October 30, 2019  •  10:00am
Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church

The annual Student Forum is the opening event for the National Civil Rights Museum's Freedom Award celebration. The Forum allows students an opportunity to hear from leaders in the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights. Led by a guest student emcee, the goal is to expose youth and the community to civil and human rights leaders and to bridge the gap between everyday people and leaders. Recognizing that they began their life's journey as everyday people, these leaders tell their story on how they were able to accomplish extraordinary things because of their commitment to equality, justice and freedom.

We are also able to offer free transportation service for local school groups to attend the event. These groups constitute a large part of the audience with attendance between 2,500 and 4,000 youth and educators each year. More than 85,000 people have attended Student Forum since it began in 1991.

Keeper of the Dream Award

The Keeper of the Dream Award is a public recognition of selected youth in grades 6 – 12. The 2018 award winners are Sarah Rosenthal, Xinyi (Cindy) Tan, Timmy Becton, Jr., Cameron Jones and members of the Bridge Builders cohort, Caitlin Robinson, Lakia Coakley, Aaliyag James, Elena Matade and Aniya Mull. These students serve to help overcome issues including diversity, inclusion, education and food insecurity to provide support, leadership and empowerment to their peers and the community.

This award celebrates and recognizes the heroism of many young people who will have the amazing responsibility of safeguarding our freedom while ensuring equal rights and opportunities for others. Area students in grades 6 – 12 who have demonstrated acts of compassion, leadership, commitment and service are self-nominated or nominated by educators and community leaders. 

2018 Keeper of the Dream Award Winners

This year’s Keeper of the Dream Award winners are Sarah Rosenthal, Xinyi (Cindy) Tan, Timmy Becton, Jr., Cameron Jones and members of the Bridge Builders cohort, Caitlin Robinson, Lakia Coakley, Aaliyah James, Elena Matade and Aniya Mull. These students address issues including diversity, inclusion, education and food insecurity and provide support, leadership and empowerment to their peers and the community.


Timmy Becton, Jr., a senior at Frederick Douglass High School, founded GrowSmart, a non-profit organization that addresses the issue of food desserts in his community. As a passionate young man who seeks to empower his peers to be involved in the improvement of their communities, Timmy developed the innovative idea to convert restaurant food waste into fertilizer for community gardens. Through GrowSmart, Timmy has mobilized over 20 community members in collecting food waste and building community gardens, bringing a sustainable and nutritious alternative to Memphis communities that do not have access to fresh produce at neighborhood grocery stores. Timmy’s efforts won him the opportunity to participate in LITE Memphis (Let’s Innovate Through Education), a six-month long curriculum designed to equip African-American & Latinx students with entrepreneurial skills and build networks to create wealth. Forbe’s Magazine has also selected GrowSmart as one of the 20 ideas that can change the world, and he was a finalist for the Obama Foundation Fellowship. 


Cameron Jones, a senior at Marion High School, learned at an early age the importance of self-sufficiency and going after what you believe in. His experiences as a young man gave him an entrepreneurial spirit, first encouraging him to meet the needs of bus-riders in his community by creating and selling affordable solar-powered cell phone chargers that they could use on-the-go. In 2014, Cameron began volunteering for local political campaigns, handing out flyers and encouraging his fellow citizens to vote. Understanding the importance of voting to have a voice in one’s community, Cameron continues to be a solid advocate for voting rights. In fact, he always has voter registration cards on hand to give out! As the grandson of a person with HIV/AIDS, and seeing firsthand how the issue disproportionately affects African American communities, Cameron has also come to understand the importance and value of medical care in economically disadvantaged communities. For the past three years, he has worked as an intern for a medical clinic in a rural town and now aspires to be an Infectious Disease Specialist. As a member of Health Occupations Students of America, Cameron won first place in the State of Arkansas for Extemporaneous Writing for his clinical research and writing skills.


Sarah Rosenthal is a seventh grader at Germantown Middle School and has taken an active role in making the world a better place through her own fundraising program called “Sarah’s Hope Projects.” At school, Sarah has sought to develop a better understanding of the world, and this has guided her to support both local and global charitable initiatives. Here in Memphis, “Sarah’s Hope Projects” has helped to fund local programs such as Ready Shelby, Temple Israel MIFA Fund, Memphis Family Shelter, and the Shelby County Volunteer Support Committee’s campaign to purchase shoes and backpacks for needy school kids. On a global level, Sarah has raised donations to purchase 17 desks for students in Malawi through the UNICEF K.I.N.D. Fund. This year, Sarah is focused on raising funds to benefit the Child Advocacy Centers and her efforts have recently generated a significant donation to the MIFA 50th Anniversary event.

Xinyi (Cindy) Tan, a senior at White Station High School, has founded two programs, one geared toward fostering diversity among students and one that moves past traditional gender boundaries in computer science. As an immigrant from China, Cindy understands how difficult it can be for kids to adjust to their new American culture. To create cultural awareness and encourage diversity, she founded Rotary Interact Club at White Station. The club hosts an event called World of Traditions, which brings students together to learn about cultures around the world. As a computer science and technology enthusiast, Cindy realized that many students in Memphis do not have access to programming classes, and that many female students felt cut off from advancing their computer skills. In response to this need, Cindy founded GirlCode, an outreach program that teaches free workshops on how to create apps using basic computing skills. Her program has received funding from the prestigious National Center for Women & Information Technology AspireIT program, and she is working to expand GirlCode to serve more students in our city.


 Caitlin Robinson (Hutchison School, 12th grade), Lakia Coakley (Middle College High School, 9th grade), Aaliyah James (Overton High School, 11th grade), Elena Matade (Bellevue Middle School, 8th grade), and Aniya Mull (The Soulsville Charter School, 12th grade) are all members of the BRIDGE Builders CHANGE’s Gender and Sexuality (GAS) cohort and are working to ensure LGBTQ youth in Memphis feel safe, supported, and empowered. These five young adults dedicate a minimum of six hours each week to creating lasting systemic change for Memphis’ LGBTQ youth. The GAS cohort are surveying a diverse group of local youth to develop a list of criteria that spaces (for example businesses and schools) need to meet in order to be safe and welcoming. Once the criteria are determined, the cohort envisions local spaces to apply to receive a special designation indicating that they are a safe place for LGBTQ youth and meet the requirements of the program. By continuing their research and serving as youth activists, the cohort have displayed bravery, maturity, and determination in the face of individuals and businesses that are against LGBTQ rights.

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