In addition to free haircuts, the Aug. 13 Austin Community Fest also featured numerous musical guests, free food and lots of fun. Rev. Ira Acree, Greater St. John's pastor (pictured with radio personality Sonya Blakey), touted the power of education in bettering the neighborhood. | Courtesy Greater St. John Bible Church

Janaya Sanders, 18, said a psychology class she took one summer changed her life. The course made her realize the importance of mental health and just how unaware most people are when it comes seeking out treatment.

“It’s not something that people really pay attention to,” said the Marshal High School graduate who recently enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue her dreams of becoming either a practicing psychiatrist or a psychiatry professor.

When the West Side native starts classes this week, she’ll have a little less to worry about thanks to the largesse of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin.

This year, the church gave out over $20,000 in scholarship money to 25 college students at its annual Austin Community Fest, held Aug. 13 on the grounds of Ella Flagg Young School, 1434 N. Parkside.

The scholarships were just one aspect of the event, which also featured free haircuts carnival-style games, horse rides and music, among other highlights. The event’s organizers said that around 1,000 people showed up to partake in the festivities.

“Some of the kids who came had never ridden on a pony,” said Rev. Ira Acree, Greater St. John’s pastor and the event’s founder, who added that it typically costs upwards of $30,000 to stage the fest.

“It’s important that we invest in the education of our youth,” Acree said. “Promoting and investing in education is the most proactive and efficient approach in combating gun violence and bettering our neighborhoods.”

Dean Tate, a church elder who headed up the event’s planning team, said that the fest’s price tag is a minor cost considering the event’s outcomes.

“This whole festival is two-fold,” Tate said. “We wanted to come together to do something great in the community and to bring people together. We wanted to show people that, instead of gun violence and gangs, there is good that comes out of the hood.”

Sanders embodies that good. The aspiring psychologist maintained a 4.0 GPA while in high school and was salutatorian of her graduating class. She’s the second person in her family to go to college.

“I was excited to find out that I’d won,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing and even though I don’t attend the church, I was glad they still gave me something and that they’re helping kids all throughout the community attend school — whether they go to the church or not.”

Marquan Morris, an 18-year-old graduate of Legal Prep Charter High School, said he already knows where his scholarship money is going.

“I just got my list of books so that will cover most of the books I need,” said Morris, who graduated from high school with a 3.3 GPA and has enrolled at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia.

One criteria for getting the scholarship money was an original essay. Morris wrote his on where he sees himself a decade from now.

“I plan on being an elementary school teacher so I can help fix the achievement gap in the city,” he said. “As blacks, we always struggle with a lack of resources in the school system. I wanted to focus on the foundational education, which is why I picked elementary education. I want to help fix problems before they even start.”

2016 Greater St. John Bible Church Scholarship Recipients

  • Demetrius Abbott | Illinois State University 
  • Emani Barfield | Northern Illinois University 
  • Jaylan Cooper | North Park University Chicago 
  • Fallon Eaton | Brewton-Park College
  • Taqori Halliburton | Northern Illinois University 
  • Quishana Holman | Saint Xavier University 
  • Elijah Hubbard | Illinois State University 
  • Madison Isidor | Dominican University 
  • David Gross, Jr. | Villanova University 
  • Kendall Jordan | Illinois State University 
  • Marquan Morrison | Clark Atlanta University 
  • Jamille Newson | Lakeland University 
  • Janaya Sanders | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 
  • Tamara Thomas | Fisk University 
  • Donte Washington | Illinois State University 
  • Tanjanica Williams | Central Michigan University

College sophomores – seniors

  • Niyah Hudson | Bradley University 
  • Malik Pinklyn | Marquette University 
  • Andrea Singleton | DeVry University 
  • Jermesha Striblet | Bradley University 
  • Tara Thomas | Illinois State University 
  • Tonisha Trotter | Malcolm X College
  • Durome Verse | Robert Morris University/Peoria
  • Ariel Morrow | Western Illinois University

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