Taking part in a recognition ceremony at Maricopa City Hall were (from left) MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut, MHS senior Donald Grace, Mayor Christian Price, AHS senior Derrick Gray, Krystal Hagler, Zelmer Hagler (aka Sincere D.I.B.), Nicholas Sheppard and Jaysie Sheppard.

A Maricopa ministry has begun a year-long kickoff of an effort to reward leadership among African-American students.

During Black History Month in February, the Flock Ministries, founded by Nicholas and Jaysie Sheppard, identified four nominees for its first scholarships. They contacted schools in Maricopa and in the Valley to find students meeting this year’s criteria of being African-American male seniors with good grades and a reputation for good character.

Of those who met the standard this year, three were from Maricopa and one was from Glendale.

“It sounds like a great idea,” said nominee Donald Grace. “I’m glad they’re helping people out, like in my situation, people who could definitely use the help that they’re providing.”

Grace will be graduating in May from Maricopa High School along with fellow nominees Johnny Johnson Jr. and Devaughn Sutton. Derrick Gray was nominated from Apollo High School.

The nominees were given certificates of appreciation on Feb. 27 by Flock Ministries, Doing It Big Entertainment (Up Next) and the City of Maricopa at a brief ceremony at City Hall. Mayor Christian Price and Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut spoke at the gathering.

Donald Grace (left) of Maricopa High School and Derrick Gray of Apollo High School are among four senior nominated for Black History Month scholarships. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Donald Grace (left) of Maricopa High School and Derrick Gray of Apollo High School are among four senior nominated for Black History Month scholarships. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“We’re going to start it here in Maricopa and then we’re going to spread it,” said Zelmer Hagler, who performs rap as Sincere D.I.B. and owns Doing It Big Entertainment. “We have a whole list of things we want to do in the city.”

During this year, organizers will host fund-raisers to create the first scholarships to be presented at a Black History Ball being planned for February 2017.

Jaysie Sheppard said it was important for the students to have black leaders to look up to in the community, but it was also important for her children to see black students being recognized for their achievements.

She thanked the students for “awesome character that you show to the community, showing great behavior in the classroom and then academic success. And that is so important today, because your wisdom is our future, is our black history.”

Next year, organizers will seek female seniors to recognize.

Grace, who attended the City Hall ceremony with parents Donald and Merry Grace and his brothers, is trying to decide between Arizona State University and University of Arizona. “I’m kind of more interested in economics because I’ve been taking it in high school,” he said.

Gray is mulling football scholarships that are already available to him and is also investigating baseball scholarships.

“I kind of want to go into teaching because my father is a teacher,” Gray said, adding he found mentorship in his family and his coaches. His parents, Derrick and Felisha Gray, were with him at the presentation.

Hagler said organizers notified schools around the Phoenix area about the scholarship opportunity, but ran into a surprising roadblock. “We couldn’t even find three in [Phoenix] because their grades were so low.”

He said it was another reason he wanted to recognize those who put in the work.

“We just want to show we appreciate what they’re doing and their work hasn’t gone unnoticed,” he said. “We want to continue to encourage them to go farther and just let them know they have mentors and different people here to help them.”

Nicholas Sheppard said he started the foundation because of how important mentors were to him. He and Jaysie played professional basketball.

“So now it’s time for me to give back,” he said.


This story appeared in the April issue of InMaricopa.