When it seemed like his childhood was taken away from him, Michael Bryant Powell found answers within the pages of a book geared towards kids like himself in foster care. Now the 18-year-old Belleville West High School senior will soon deliver 150 copies of the book to kids in foster care.
Powell is among the 39 local students honored on Sunday during the annual Racial Harmony Awards presented by the Center for Racial Harmony before a packed house at Grace Church in Fairview Heights.
Powell raised more than $2,300 during a 20-mile bike ride. The project also earned him the rank of Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts.
"The book helped me understand what foster care was all about. Kids in foster have a lot of questions about what is happening to them and the book explains they need to just be a kid," Powell said. "It's a very important message for kids in foster care because it seems your childhood is taken away from you."
The honored students were nominated from 38 schools throughout St. Clair County. The students earned nominations for a variety of projects, such as Powell's fundraiser, or being a role model in the classroom. For example, pre-kindergartener Ellie Geppert was honored for making the "right choices" in her classroom at Washington Elementary School.
Lynn Clapp, chairman of the Belleville Human Relations Commission, served as the master of ceremonies for the event.
"We know you are normal kids ... and that's OK," Clapp said. "But you are also here today because you are role models."
Clapp along with Cheryl Heard and James Schneider were honored with awards for their community service. Clapp, an assistant superintendent in the Belleville School District 118, has been involved in community organizations for 30 years.
"When you go into Belleville schools and those in the surrounding area, the kids get along together regardless of skin color, and it wasn't that way when I was growing up," Clapp said.
Schneider is the director of human resources and parks and recreation for the city of Belleville. He is also president of the Belleville Achieves Strength in Character Initiative (B.A.S.I.C.).
"Caring for each other is very important," Schneider told the student honorees as he received the award. "Please keep being role models for the adult world."
Heard is an administrator in the Kimmel Leadership Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and has served in numerous roles with the Center of Racial Harmony.
Retired Judge Annette Eckert was the featured speaker at the event. She said it was important to celebrate those who do the "right thing" because "too often the focus is on the negative -- those who do not do the right thing."
"The choices you make determine who you will be," Eckert said, noting the honored students chose peaceful solutions.
"Choose peace not as a goal, but as a way of life. ..." she added. "All of you here are the future. When making choices, choose peace."
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2501.