Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers surprised high school senior and essay award recipient Makiah Lyons with a $2,500 scholarship sponsored by BMO Harris Bank. Lyons, a student at King College Prep High School, wrote the winning essay about African-American inventor Garrett Morgan who revolutionized several inventions and products that are used today, including the traffic signal light, an improved version of the sewing machine, the “safety hood” which later became the gas mask and a hair-straightening cream. Morgan also became one of the wealthiest African-American businessmen in the country and the first Black man to own an automobile in Cleveland, Ohio.
In partnership with the Chicago Public Schools and the City Treasurer’s office, this contest allowed CPS senior students to apply for the annual Black History Month essay contest which awarded $1,000 to last year’s winner. This year’s scholarship award was increased to $2,500 at the encouragement of City Treasurer Summers.
“When I saw the amount and read the essay, I felt that we should do more for this young woman. We should step up and have a greater impact in helping her achieve her dreams. The great thing about being the treasurer is when you call banks, they pick up your calls. We called our banking partner and asked them to increase their sponsorship and they were happy to do so,” Summers said.
The scholarship contest was open to all CPS students in the class of 2015 who plan to enroll in an accredited two or four-year institution of higher education or educational institution in the fall. Students must also have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5 and 50 hours of community service. All applications also required
recommendations regarding their academic work and community service.
In choosing an African American scientist, inventor, mathematician who inspired and motivated her, Makiah felt her interest in social justice also influenced her to write an essay.
She explains, “My life revolves around issues that talk about politics. I see social justice from a lot of aspects. When I talked about Garrett Morgan, I focused on no one recognizing the stop light as one of his inventions; then I realized he also invented the gas mask. I had a flashback to watching the news when you see police officers with the gas masks on walking towards protesters that were peaceful; it was ironic. I wanted to follow that and write about it. I’m really glad that I did.”
Summers, who grew up only a few blocks from King Prep High School, sees a great deal of himself in Makiah.
“When I saw her essay, I thought, ‘This is something I would’ve written. This is something I would’ve done.’ When I read her story and her desire to pursue her degree – I thought about my own challenges. Growing up as a senior in high school, I didn’t know where the money would come from for college because we didn’t have a lot of money. I applied to every scholarship out there so I understand what kind of impact this can have,” said Summers.
Makiah Lyons will be attending Howard University this fall and will major in political science. It was not only exciting to receive a surprise visit from the Chicago City Treasurer in the middle of her school day, but also to be recognized with such an impactful contribution.
She smiles, “I wasn’t expecting any of this at all. I’m so grateful. It’s a gesture that I really appreciate because I work hard and I feel that sometimes people don’t recognize or don’t understand. For me to put an essay out and someone to understand where I’m coming from or understand what I’m trying to say and believe in the message, then to give me money to go to school is a blessing.”