Photo by Dave Bugg

Oakland University kicked off its African American Celebration Month with the 25th annual Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Awards, honoring seven students with $5,000 scholarships each on Jan. 16.

Keeper of the Dream Scholarships have been awarded since 1993 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to students who “exemplify Dr. King’s vision,” according to OU’s website.

In order to qualify, students must have a minimum 3.0 grade point average, “have a clear career focus and academic persistence” and be returning to OU for the following fall and winter semesters.

This year’s recipients were Daryl Blackburn, Ashley Chillis, Alex Currington, Shayla McCullough, Gabriela Saenz, Jacob Semma and Aditya Tiwari.

OU Student Congress Vice President Anders Engnell also received special recognition for his work on campus and in his hometown of Pontiac.

“It is an unfathomable honor to receive an award under Dr. King’s name and vision,” Saenz said in a video shown during the event.

The highlight of the ceremony was keynote speaker Holly Robinson Peete.

“You all really understand what it means to keep this dream moving, and we need you,” she told the award recipients. “We really need you.”

Robinson Peete is known for her performances in Fox TV’s “21 Jump Street,” ABC’s “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” and NBC/WB’s “For Your Love.” She was previously a host of CBS’s “The Talk” and now stars with her family in the OWN Network’s reality series “For Peete’s Sake.”

She is the daughter of Matt Robinson, the first actor to play the role of Gordon on “Sesame Street,” and is married to former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, with whom she co-founded the HollyRod Foundation in 1997.

The foundation seeks to provide compassionate care and services to individuals with Parkinson’s disease and autism. Its creation was inspired by Matt Robinson’s experiences with Parkinson’s disease and her oldest son’s diagnosis with autism.

“My father . . . and my son both led to me a life of service, one with Parkinson’s and one with autism,” she said.

Robinson Peete discussed her son’s special needs and how they have impacted her family.

“It was devastating to us,” she said, referring to her son’s diagnosis at the age of three. “It caused friction to our marriage, to our lives.”

Now 19 years old, Robinson Peete’s son has a job, holds a driver’s license and voted in the presidential election. The Peete family uses its reality show to raise autism awareness.

Robinson Peete also turned attention toward politics during her speech. She lightheartedly discussed President-elect Donald Trump, whom she encountered when she appeared on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

“If you would’ve told me that the guy I was sitting across from would be the president, I would’ve said, ‘There’s just no way,’” she said. “But stuff happens, and then you pray.

“We’re all going on this ride together . . . We have to have a sense of comradery. There’s so much divisiveness. We have to get rid of that. That’s the only way we’re going to get through.”

This year’s Keeper of the Dream Scholarships were sponsored by Autoliv North America, Beaumont Health, the Key Bank Foundation, The Lynne and Lia McIntosh Scholarship, the Marshall Family Scholar Foundation, the OU Alumni Association and the OU Credit Union.

Jan. 16 was the first day of African American Celebration Month at OU, which runs through Feb. 15. There are 14 events scheduled, including Black Cinema Movie Night, MLK Day of Service and a Black Lives Matter panel discussion. For more information, visit www.oakland.edu/cmi/aacm/.