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David Douglas Grad Wins Oregon Black Pioneers Scholarship

Scholarship winner Mikaiah Hill. Photo courtesy of Oregon Black Pioneers

Mikaiah Hill, a recent graduate of David Douglas High, has been honored as the first recipient of the Willie B. Richardson Scholarship, sponsored by Oregon Black Pioneers, a nonprofit dedicated to information on the people, places and stories of Oregon’s Black history.


Willie B. Richardson was a civil rights activist and community advocate. She was also a founder of Oregon Black Pioneers, which had its beginnings when Richardson teamed up with the late state Senator Jackie Winters to revive a nonprofit called Northwest Black Pioneers, according to the OBP website.


“During her tenure with the organization, their name changed to Oregon Black Pioneers, and they expanded the scope of their activities to include a wide variety of outreach and advocacy work,” the site states. “Oregon Black Pioneers would not be what we are today were it not for Willie B. Richardson. Willie poured her enormous talents, boundless energy and incredible leadership skills into building this organization and educating Oregonians about our Black history.”


The $1,000 scholarship is awarded to a college-bound Black high school student in Oregon who has demonstrated an interest in the state’s Black history. The nonprofit’s website at details the many opportunities for learning more about the history of Blacks in Oregon. The nonprofit began in Salem but recently moved to Portland.


Hill will continue her education at Oregon State University, and she wants to be a teacher, as she wrote in her application for the scholarship.


“I plan to pursue higher education to become a secondary education teacher,” she wrote. “My dream is to return and teach at a high school in the local community I grew up in. The student population is getting more diverse, so it is equally important to diversify the teaching staff.”


The scholarship was established last year to honor Richardson, who co-chaired Oregon Black Pioneers’ founding board of directors in the mid-1990s, and who served as OBP’s president from 2004 through 2021.


Receiving the scholarship was not a simple matter for Hill. She had to maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average, submit two letters of recommendation, one to describe her interest in Black history, and the other from someone not associated with her high school. She also had to write a 450-word essay demonstrating her interest in Black history, plus a 200-word essay on her educational plans.


Richardson would no doubt approve of the selection of Hill as the first winner of the scholarship in her name. She was particularly committed to education, especially for Black and minority students, and served on the Salem-Keizer school board from 1987 to 1991, the first Black person to hold that position.


Richardson passed away at age 75 on January 25, 2023. She was born in South Carolina, where she began her community involvement in the 1970s as a member of the South Carolina Family Planning Advisory Council. She moved to Salem in 1978 and continued her community activism by serving on committees that included the Salem YMCA, Salem Human Rights Commission, Women’s Political Caucus and the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs.


Elise Gautier, board secretary of OBP and chair of the scholarship committee, said Hill, who was president of her high school Honor Society, was the perfect choice to receive the scholarship.


“Willie poured her enormous talents and boundless energy into building Oregon Black Pioneers and educating Oregonians about our Black history,” she said. “Willie was particularly committed to education, and we are delighted that Mikaiah Hill, an outstanding high school graduate who plans to be an educator herself, is the first recipient of the Willie B. Richardson Scholarship.”


Hill’s scholarship will be sent directly to her college, and she’s grateful for the help in achieving her goals.


“Having a teacher who looks like you and grew up in the same area is so essential to aid in the learning of Portland youth,” she said.


“Black students were made to thrive in schools, not just survive. I dream of being a teacher who believes in all of my students, and if they have one teacher they feel supported by, that teacher will be me.”


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