Joyful night: East Bay Black students awarded for academic excellence

The Mount Diablo Unified School District held a first-of-its-kind awards ceremony Tuesday night for Black students to honor their academic excellence.

It was a joyful night.

Proud parents and their children packed into the auditorium at Concord High. 

Organizers said their goal is to increase engagement with families to help students succeed.  

"We're celebrating our students, African-American students who overcame the odds," said Lamont A. Francies, coordinator of the district's African American Family Engagement and founder of the Black Excellence Awards.

It's a celebration of black brilliance among students from Kindergarten through grade 12. 

The district's ceremony honored 130 black students for their high Grade Point Averages, attendance and excellence in subjects such as English and math.

Bemnet Getahun is a graduating senior at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, where there are few Black students.

He received an award for his 4.3 GPA.  

The aspiring doctor said  he plans to attend USC.  

"A lot of pride.  At first, I was shocked because I didn't even know this was a thing. But it's a very nice thing that they do in the district  'cause it's an underrepresented population especially at my school," said Getahun.  

"We're celebrating resiliency. We're celebrating community," Francies said, as he addressed students, parents and faculty.  

It's also about breaking stereotypes.

"I hope that it makes people look at African American teenagers and students in a different light because I feel like normally, people associate them with bad things rather than academic excellence," said Jordan Scales, an award recipient.     

She's a 9th grader who hopes to become a lawyer.

Derrick Pouncil is 10 years old and attends 4th grade at Bel Air Elementary in Pittsburg.

He's not only great at math, he's already an entrepreneur. 

He said he's makes sweet potato pies from scratch and sells them through his aunt's business. 

Derrick shared his secret for success:"My favorite subject is reading because I really like books. You need the education to learn how to make stuff and build a more successful career."

Success runs in the family. 

Derrick's mom, Ebony Jones, was chosen as Black Parent of the Year for her work advocating for black students as a liaison. 

"I help children when they need food, resources, clothing ,education, scholarship, programs, any resources that we can get to these children."  

"It's just really cool to have awards like this nowadays because it hasn't always been like this," said Scales.

Award recipients said they hope this recognition will be the first of many.

The Mount Diablo Unified School District plans to turn the Black Excellence Awards into an annual event.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on Facebook @AmberKTVU,  Instagram @AmberKTVU  or Twitter @AmberKTVU