The Rev. Martin Luther King’s optimism lives in a group of local students dreaming of going to a figurative mountaintop — in medicine, business and other fields.

Eight high school seniors, one junior and one college student recently earned King scholarships from the local African American Pastors Alliance or Calvary Community Church’s 41st annual Martin Luther King Scholarship Program.

Columbus East High School senior Krysjahn Johnson felt like the future beckoned to her when she happened to enroll in a C4 class called Principles of Biomedical Sciences her freshman year.

“And my passion just gradually grew from there,” Johnson said.

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Now, she’s planning to major in health sciences or medicine by fall at one of three colleges she’s considering while on a path to becoming a pediatrician, a kidney specialist or a surgical subspecialist in conditions of the ear, nose and throat.

Her recent $500 King scholarship will help with expenses — and maybe more than anything, remind her that her hometown encourages her to pursue King-sized dreams.

Bishop Charles Sims, Calvary Community’s founder, launched the scholarship service as a way to honor King’s spiritual and educational legacy — and to motivate young people to pursue education and the best possible life. He also is a member of the pastors alliance. King himself was so academically focused that he became a Morehouse College student in Atlanta, Georgia, at age 15.

“We didn’t want an event where we simply would pat everyone on the back and say, ‘That’s great,’” Sims said. “Dr. King certainly was an educational enthusiast. He felt one strong way to raise oneself up was education. So we wanted something tangible to help young people. ”

The scholarships announced at the Jan. 14 program come from a collection at the service and other church donations and other church funds. All those amounts except one (for $250) are for $200. The pastors alliance grants are for $500. That money comes from nearly a dozen Martin Luther King Day Breakfast sponsors, including the African American Fund.

East senior Ty Henderson, who landed one of the program scholarships, hopes to attend Tiffin University in northern Ohio to focus on either business marketing or music engineering.

“I’ve been doing music all my life,” said Henderson, a drummer in Calvary’s praise band and also a keyboard player in his downtime. “I had a pretty good knack for it from the start. I just want to take things to the next level.”

Columbus East senior Exavier Harris has loved his experience with the school’s performing arts department so much that he hopes to continue his involvement down the road as he continues his studies in the fall at Ivy Tech Community College and later transition to Vincennes University in southwestern Indiana. He has written his own music for several years and loves modern and hip hop dance styles especially with artists such as Chris Brown.

“He just looks really free when he dances,” Harris said. “That’s what I want people to feel if they see me dance.”

Courtney Jackson, who landed a scholarship from both from the local breakfast and Calvary program, used a step of adjustment three years ago to alter her future. She was working as a certified nursing assistant at Columbus Regional Hospital when she watched physicians work, grew fascinated and changed her career prognosis.

She just began the new semester as a third-year student at Ross University School of Medicine’s campus in Niles, Ohio, near Youngstown, while pursuing plans to work as a doctor in pediatrics or neonatology when she is graduated next year.

“These programs make me just so grateful for any financial help because medical school is so expensive,” Jackson said. “And the fact that these scholarships are given in the name of Martin Luther King just kicks the appreciation up a notch.”

Scholarship winners

Martin Luther King Jr. Calvary Community Church program scholarships 

  • James (J.D.) Harris, Columbus North High School senior, planning to attend Northern Illinois University on a football scholarship while majoring in business management with hopes of launching a business of his own someday, such as a fitness center. $200.
  • Aaron Sims, a Columbus East High School senior planning to attend Ivy Tech Community College for the first two years of study while majoring in history and minoring in criminology. He plans to teach at some point in the future, or perhaps find a way to mix history and architecture nationwide. $200.
  • Cortez Bandy, a Columbus North senior planning to attend Marian University in Indianapolis and study communications and project management, with the thought of working for Cummins Inc. someday. $200.
  • Exavier Harris, a Columbus East senior who probably will attend Ivy Tech Community College initially, then perhaps enroll at Vincennes University in southwestern Indiana to focus on the performing arts. $200.
  • Ty Henderson, a Columbus East senior planning to attend Tiffin University in northern Ohio to study business marketing and music engineering to somehow continue his lifelong interest and involvement in music. $200.
  • Alivia Jordan, a Columbus East junior considering attending IUPUC initially and hoping eventually to study nursing and to work as registered nurse someday at Columbus Regional Hospital. $200.
  • Courtney Jackson, a Columbus East graduate who is a third-year student at the Niles, Ohio, campus of Ross University School of Medicine with graduation expected in 2019. She hopes to work in pediatric medicine or neonatology. She also is part of the King breakfast scholarship winners list below. $250.

Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast scholarship winners

  • Krysjahn Johnson, a Columbus East High School senior trying to decide between three colleges: The University of Minnesota – Rochester; Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She hopes to study health sciences or medicine and eventually become a pediatrician, a kidney specialist or a surgical subspecialist within medicine dealing with conditions of the ear, nose, and throat and related structures of the head and neck. $500.
  • Damon Hunter, Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech senior considering several college options and hoping to land a football scholarship somewhere soon (he played for Columbus North). He hopes to major in mechanical engineering to eventually return home to work for Cummins Inc. $500.
  • Courtney Jackson, a Columbus East graduate who is a third-year student at the Niles, Ohio, campus of Ross University School of Medicine with graduation expected in 2019. She hopes to work in pediatric medicine or neonatology. $500.
  • Jahna Smiley, a Columbus North High School senior planning to major in neuroscience and exercise science initially at Morehead State University in southeastern Kentucky in hopes of working either in brain research on topics such as dementia or brain injuries or as an athletics trainer or physical therapist. $500.
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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.