WOC GIVE co-founder honored with MLK Service Award

For the second year, I AM Academy hosted the Martin Luther King Celebration at the DeVos Fieldhouse on the Hope College campus.

The Jan. 15 event drew more than 300 people, including students from West Ottawa High School and Holland High School.

The focus was on honoring the history, sacrifice, and leadership of those who paved the way for Black and Brown Americans through discussions, presentations, and art and writing displays. 

“This event has always been one of my favorites. It’s the perfect way for our community to kick off the new year,” says Lindsay Cherry, co-founder and co-executive director of I AM Academy, a Holland nonprofit that provides mentorship and education for youth.

“This year’s theme was ‘Behind the Dream,’ which allowed us to look at the behind-the-scenes actions and motivations of those who came before us. Why did they make the decisions they did? How did it impact our world today? How can we carry their legacies with us and continue to work toward ‘The Dream?’” 

‘Heart and passion’

During the event, I AM Academy presented Yah-Hanna Jenkins Leys with the MLK Service Award. The tribute recognizes an individual who embodies “The Dream” through their commitment to the advancement of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the Holland area. 

Jenkins Leys is senior program manager at MillerKnoll Foundation and president and co-founder of Women of Color GIVE. 

She left her home in St. Kitts, West Indies, in 2008 to study at the City University of New York, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies and English literature. 

She later earned a Master’s Degree in nonprofit leadership and management at Grand Valley State University in 2015. As a member of the MillerKnoll Foundation team, Jenkins Leys supports the delivery and management of grants, philanthropic partnerships, and global programs. Additionally, she serves on the board of directors of Hands Across the Sea, a U.S.-based nonprofit focused on children’s literacy in the Eastern Caribbean. 

“I’ve known and worked with Yah-Hanna for years,” says Lauren Beck, director of operations. “She holds the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in everything she does, with a heart and passion for serving members of the Holland community through connection, inclusivity, and a vision of what philanthropy truly is and could be. We feel incredibly honored to give her this year’s MLK Service Award.”  

The nonprofit creates a theme for each event, project, and school year. The 2023-2024 theme is “I AM The Dream,” meaning each program and event will revolve around “The Dream” and “how to live a life our ancestors wanted for us.”

“A dream remains a dream until you have a plan,” says Henry Cherry, co-founder and co-executive director of I AM Academy. “This is the message we’ve been instilling into our students this year, and we think our Martin Luther King Celebration echoed this idea.”

The 2024 I AM Academy Martin Luther King Celebration was a collaboration with the Community Foundation of Holland/Zeeland Area, Gentex, West Ottawa and Holland public schools, Hope College, and the city of Holland. 

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.