There was laughter during the awards night at the Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, California last month when a white student, Jeffrey Warren, 17, was called up on stage and handed an African-American scholarship.
Warren, who received the $1,000 cheque donated by the Martiin Luther Senior Citizen's Club, did not realize that it was intended only for black students, but when he did, he returned the check. It was then given to an African-American girl.
Riverside Press Enterprise reports that Warren did not see the cover letter for the award sent to the high school counselor that said the scholarship was exclusively for blacks.
Warren said everyone in the hall was surprised when he appeared to collect the award and there was laughter. According to Riverside Press Enterprise, a hush fell over the School gym when Jeffrey was announced winner of an African-American student scholarship. Then laughter erupted when he got up to receive his $1,000 dollar award.
MSNBC reports he said: “People were surprised. Laughter started to come up from crowd. They still shook my hand, they still said ‘thank you.’”
He said that although the presentation was awkward, he is now laughing about it with his friends. He told Riverside PE: "Now it’s kind of a joke."
Etta Brown, chairwoman of the local Martin Luther King Senior Citizens Club's scholarship committee, said: “We just couldn’t believe it at the outset. It was really something.There was a mixed feeling in the crowd."
Daily Mail reports that although it was announced at the ceremony that the scholarship was only for black students, the application had only said that African-Americans were "encouraged to apply."
Daily Mail reports that Warren, who graduated last week, said he applied for a total of 27 scholarships and won three others. He said it was his father Rod Warren, who encouraged him to apply for all scholarships he was eligible for. According to Riverside PE, Rod Warren said his son applied for 27 scholarships and won three besides the African-American scholarship. He won two scholarships for $2,000 each and another $500 scholarship.
MSNBC reports that some teachers also showed up at his graduation party and awarded him $351.
Warren said he returned the scholarship because he thought "it was the right thing to do." MSNBC reports that he is receiving praises for his decision and even offers of alternate financial help. School principal Darel Hanses, said: "I think it says a lot for his character and it says a lot of the character for the family. This was not something the school or school district asked him to do. He in our opinion won the award in good faith though there was a mix-up.”
Warren said the Martin Luther King Senior Citizens Club accepted the scholarship back when he returned it. He said: "They were very nice about it. They thanked me for being generous and for being a great kid."
Jeffrey's father Rod, who teaches language arts at the high school, said: “Jeffrey and I wanted them to be happy. The ladies were trying to do something really nice.”
According to MSNBC, some club members felt Jeffrey should be allowed to keep the scholarship. But Brown said: “It was a very thoughtful decision between his family and himself that they would not accept it."
Riverside PE reports that attorneys from a Sacramento-based group, the Pacific Legal Foundation, that supports banning affirmative action in public agencies, said organizations may use private money to give scholarship to any group or class of persons or use any eligibility criteria they choose.
"Affirmative action" was introduced in the 1970s to address perceived inbalances in access of minority groups to higher education. According to Riverside PE, statistics available from the California Department of Education shows that college-going rates are lower among African-American and Hispanic students than whites and that minorities are more likely to go to community colleges than to state universities.
Daily Mail reports Warren, who had a cumulative grade-point average of 4.25, plans to go to San Diego State University to double major in English and business.