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5 Students Win Social Justice Awards

Five Kalamazoo Public Schools student leaders have been honored with 2021 Social Justice Youth Awards for their social activism, involvement in school and community groups, and positive influence on peers and the city of Kalamazoo.

The Kalamazoo City Commission recognized Cecilia Mireless Caballero, Jaleen Johnson, August O’Neil, Sierra Ward, and Keyara Price at its Jan. 19 meeting as part of the city’s MLK Day celebration. 

The Social Justice Youth Awards are given annually to students who exemplify The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s values through their community service and volunteer activities. The awards are sponsored by Consumers Energy, Fifth Third Bank, Life EMS, Dr. Betty and Mr. Tony Dennis, Schupan & Sons, and Dr. Lewis Walker, an educator and community leader known for advocating for racial equity in Kalamazoo.

This year's winners from KPS were:

Cecilia Mireles Caballero, who graduated from Loy Norrix High School last year, was nominated by Loy Norrix economics teacher Sean Bergan, who said, “Cecilia can make other students feel good about themselves and bring up their level of productivity using her leadership skills. It is the sign of an incredible leader who is mature and caring.”

Caballero’s community service included work with several Loy Norrix groups: PeaceJam, a service organization dedicated to furthering world peace; DECA, an educational program that promotes an understanding of business and economics; and the National Honor Society, which honors academic excellence and student leadership. Her award was sponsored by Fifth Third Bank.

Kalamazoo Central senior Jaleen Johnson received his award from the Kalamazoo NonViolent Opponents of War. As a freshman, Johnson saw a presentation on Jeter’s Leaders, a leadership and service organization created by Kalamazoo Central graduate and Baseball Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, which inspired him to apply for a competitive position on the team.

As a member of Jeter’s Leaders, Johnson has helped facilitate Halloween events and basketball camps at Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E., a Kalamazoo Northside organization for children. Johnson is also a member of the National Honor Society and the Kalamazoo Central football team. He has been a leader with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo and Peace House, a free afterschool and summer program for students in the Eastside neighborhood.

Kalamazoo Central Senior August O’Neil demonstrates his community commitment by volunteering with organizations that include the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo, Special Olympics, and Jeter’s Leaders. He is both the senior class president at KC and the senior representative for the executive council of Jeter’s Leaders.

Last year, he became involved in local social justice protests after the death of George Floyd, and, in the summer of 2020, he participated in a national conference that discussed topics such as racism and gender inequality. His commitment to social justice has earned him a reputation as a mentor who works to guide and support others. His award was sponsored by Life EMS.

Loy Norrix senior Sierra Ward, recipient of the LodgeDennis Award from Dr. Betty and Mr. Tony Dennis, is the president of the Merze Tate Explorers, a Gold Award Girl Scout, an athlete, and an active member of the Loy Norrix High School student body. Ward created motivational bookmarks that were inserted in the diploma packets for each graduate at Loy Norrix, Kalamazoo Central, and Phoenix high schools last year. She created the bookmarks to inspire graduating seniors to continue their journey toward success.

Ward held a bottle drive that raised nearly $800 in four hours. The money was used to fund a scholarship for girls in the United States and Tanzania. She also served as a youth delegate for the Numazu, Japan, sister city committee, and represented Kalamazoo overseas.

Loy Norrix senior Keyara Price believes in setting an example as a leader and volunteer for her school and community organizations such as the Kalamazoo Gospel Mission, Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food bank, and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo. She has also participated in the Upward Bound Trio Program at Western Michigan University and the Suicide Squad Dance Team.

Price was a leader in the Black Lives Matters protests in Kalamazoo last year and demonstrates her leadership by sharing her opinions and being willing to listen to and respect the opinions of those from other cultures and religions.

Her award was presented by Schupan & Sons. Awards were also presented to Gull Lake student Syann Hollins and Portage Northern students Makayla Bolton, Jamillah Clark, and Maya Daniels.

Cecilia Mireles Caballero






 Cecilia Mireles Caballero


Jaleen Johnson






 Jaleen Johnson


August O'Neil






 August O'Neil


Sierra Ward






 Sierra Ward


Keyara Price.jpg






 Keyara Price