At its inaugural Circle of Excellence celebration April 28 at the Bexley City Schools' Cassingham Theater, the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance gave college scholarships to two graduating seniors and presented academic awards to fifth-, eighth- and 12th-grade students.

A group of parents formed the alliance in 2015 to provide academic support for Bexley minority students and connect them and their families with community resources, said Jonathan Baker, the organization's president.

The Circle of Excellence event was designed to recognize minority students' contributions to their schools and community and prepare them for the next stages in their academic and professional careers, he said.

"We're committed to helping all students but especially those of diverse experiences," he said. "Graduates, we want to recognize your perseverance, your commitment to academic excellence."

"We want our students to know that success is achieved in many ways," said BMPA treasurer Bryan Drewry, "and that the community is proud of them and stands behind them, whatever their next step may be."

Bexley High School senior Kayah Woodford spoke on behalf of the 2019 graduating class and encouraged eighth-grade students who will enter high school next year to use the school's supportive atmosphere to help them reach their potential.

"Bexley is a community like no other. Faculty and staff are like no other," she said. "I can honestly say that my teachers are some of my closest friends. ... You are lucky to be in this community with teachers, parents family, friends alike that all support you and have your best interest at heart."

Keynote speaker Jordan Miller described his journey of graduating from Columbus Central High School, serving in the U.S. Air Force and going on to become Fifth Third Bank's regional chairman. He said learning from his mistakes has been essential to his success and encouraged students to do the same.

"At some point in time, I realized I'd been blaming everyone else for my failures," he said. "You have to take responsibility for your life."

The alliance presented $1,000 scholarships to Bexley seniors Freddie Collins and Serena Seraki, and named ReJanae Dockery BMPA Student of the Year.

Dockery "has a continuous positive attitude that will serve her well in life," said Leisan Smith, the school district's director of student and community engagement.

Students who received academic awards include:

Seniors -- Jason Bell, Freddie Collins, ReJanae Dockery, Isaiah Drewry, Raheem Katagum, Frieda Liu, Ashanti Lewis, Serena Seraki, Katikyn Tidwell, Nasir Tucker and Kayah Woodford.

Eighth grade -- Aaliyah Agnew, Houssam Al-Hawari, Lydia Baker, Lily Cochran, Andrew DeLaCruz, Ava Foster, Madison Ingram, Braxton Johnson, Awut Kadiray, Aaron Ligator, Nicole Lin, Keira Murray, Maya Murray, Kareene Mooney, Celeste Nunez, Clifford Padmore III, Elizabeth Patterson, Sean Palmer, Ethan Winer, Vontae Woods and Daniel Yates.

Fifth grade -- Naomi Baker, Alexander Gouke, Nicholas Gouke, Kamryn Brickeron, Solomon Coleman, Dante DeAtley Ellyson, Javier Diez, KayoAnna Edwards, Camrin Haynes, Jaden Hugley, Kai Layden, Ryland Mickey and Grayson Lumpkins.

The alliance also presented Bexley High School entrepreneur Scott Mansfield with the BMPA Community Program Award for his support of the organization.

Ken Flower, the Bexley Public Library's director of advancement and community relations, received the Friend of the BMPA Award for collaborating with the alliance on diversity programs such as the BMPA Culture and Conversation series at the library, Baker said.

Bexley alumnus Lawrence Ochieng, a firefighter and former teacher, received the Bowles Ford Alumni Award, which is named after the first minority male student and athlete to graduate from Bexley, Drewry said.

"He (Ford) graduated from (Ohio State University) and went on to be an insurance executive in Savannah, Georgia," Drewry said. "He was the first African American city council person (in Savannah) and has a park named after him. He led a group of citizens that partnered with governor Jimmy Carter, which was able to prevent riots in the '60s from spreading to Savannah."

Ochieng's fellow alumnus Joe Luchsinger said he nominated Ochieng for the award because of his professional achievements and community service.

"He is beloved by all who work with and learn from him," Luchsinger wrote in his nomination form. "For his incredible ability to help his students grow, he was awarded the 2015 Distinguished Teacher of Reading. After his notable teaching tenure, Larry transitioned to a career as a firefighter. He has saved many lives as a first responder and even mentors medical students when they are rotating through shifts with his team."

The Circle of Excellence event also included a college and career fair in the Cassingham complex cafeteria where students browsed information booths with representatives from Ohio colleges, businesses and trade organizations.