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Black Diamond Awards honor outstanding women of color

For the second consecutive year during Black History Month, the Ohio University Black Student Union honored many of outstanding black women on the Athens Campus for their significant contributions.

This year's Black Diamond Awards, which was held on Feb. 16 in front of a Baker University Center Theatre crowd of about 200 people, acknowledged the contributions and accomplishments of the award candidates.

In addition to the awards being presented, the event included several students performing songs, spoken word and theater. The event concluded with a reception outside the theatre.

Women were recognized in the categories of academics, campus involvement, performing arts, community service, congeniality, outstanding faculty member, and outstanding graduate student.

All of the candidates were nominated by their peers and the winners were chosen through an online vote. Each winner was called up to the podium to pick up a small commemorative trophy.

Adrienne Green, a junior journalism major who helped coordinate the event, said this year's Black Diamond Awards went really well.

"It was a phenomenal experience to recognize all the beautiful black women on campus and the talents that they possess," Green said. "We will host this event each year because we want to lift each other up. We want to work toward unity and community and make everyone feel that they are part of something special here at OU."

The 2014 winners were:
Academics: Nichole Lowe
Community Service: Lauren Price
Campus Involvement: Lauren Holland
Congeniality: Zainab Kandeh
Faculty: Stephanie Sanders
Graduate Student: LaDonya Jackson
Performing Arts: Tsasia Mercado

Sanders, the Ohio University assistant director for diversity and inclusion, won the faculty award for the second straight year and said she is appreciative to win the award a second time.

"It is an honor to be recognized again because I was in the category with some excellent women," Sanders said. "I accept this award on behalf of the work that they do in the classroom because it is a team effort. We all have the same goal of inspiring the students to excel academically, be active in the larger campus community and go on to do great things in the workplace after graduation."

Lowe, a senior chemical engineering major, said it was nice to know that she influenced people to nominate her for the academic award.

"This is a great program because it allows black women to be recognized in the community," Lowe said.

Jackson, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, said it meant a lot to her to win the graduate student award.

"I want to show black women that we can do whatever we dream and there are no limitations and no field too big for us," Jackson said.

Ohio University alumnus Faith Redd-Walker ended the evening by delivering the keynote speech.

She talked about how she became a professional makeup artist with her own company despite earning her bachelor's degree in business. She encouraged the students to follow their dreams and not allow other people to determine their career path.

"I am no stranger to overcoming adversity," Redd-Walker said.

She told the crowd that she became a rape survivor as a freshman and had to overcome many years of regret and depression after the incident. She said that for many years she could not gather the courage to tell the police department who her attacker was, but she finally did so. She said she now takes comfort in knowing that her attacker has to live with what he did despite not receiving a jail sentence.

Now married with two children, Redd-Walker told the audience that she was excited to join the speakers bureau for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. She said this speaking platform allows her to share her story of overcoming personal tragedy and encouraging other victims to do the same thing.

She said that despite being hurt by her past circumstances, she is proud to say that she pushed on and took back her power.

"I have to always remind myself that I've overcome my fear and self-doubt once, so I can do it again," Redd-Walker said. "For those of you who have had a similar experience or faced some other trauma in your life … you can stand on that experience and turn it into a victory for someone either behind you or ahead of you."