OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Monday was a big night for many middle and high school students and their families in Oakland.
The Oakland Unified School District's annual African American Honor Roll Celebration took place at Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland.
1,500 students were honored. Some received this recognition for the first time.
Students say they are thrilled to be recognized for their hard work.
They say black students are often regarded in a negative light and that they know good grades will help pave the way to college and other successes.
Gold medals were awarded to the students for their academic achievements.
The pride felt by the families attending the event was palpable.
One freshman from McClymonds High says this is only the beginning of his journey to success.
"The first time, I got five A's and three B's and I was like I can do better than this and I'm going to continue to improve," said Ray Cole III who's 15-years-old.
The award recipients were recognized for earning a grade point average of 3.0 and better. Many say it's determination to survive the street violence that has stolen the lives of many peers that has helped shape their own lives.
One 17-year-old says she's lost numerous relatives and friends to gun violence; one friend was killed just last month.
She says the loss of loved ones and her internship at Highland Hospital and the morgue has inspired her to be a nurse.
"I saw a lot of young people in there and it was just heartbreaking. I just wanted to do better for my community," said Tamia Holmes, a senior at McClymonds High.
She is on the honor roll for a fifth consecutive year.
Tamia says she will be the first in her family to attend college.
"Receiving this award is huge. It's like winning a gold medal for their self- esteem and for the community. We need more events like this in Oakland," said Christopher Chatmon, OUSD's deputy chief of equity.
Two sisters who immigrated from Haiti after the earthquake there in 2010 made it onto the honor roll for the first time.
They did not speak any English when they first arrived in the United States nine years ago.
When asked what her secret to success is, 14 year old Ruth Chew responded," I think it was asking for help and always getting my work done."
Her 15 year old sister Naomi Chew tells KTVU, "I want to go to college so I can be a social worker. I just want to graduate."
For Tamia, she will be attending U.C. Berkeley on a full scholarship.
"I've been doing work in our community even before I got to high school I want to stay and serve just to make it a better place," said Tamia about her desire to help the people of Oakland.
Organizers credit the African American Black Honor Roll Celebration for helping to improve the graduation rates of Black high school students in Oakland.
They say it's gone from 50 percent to about 75 percent in the past ten years.