2 students, 2 scholarships help bring hope to the future

Scholarship namesake believed education was the key to building a future

Nearly a year ago, the Joliet Unity Movement opened up applications for the first Loretta Westbrooks $1,000 Scholarship.

Westbrooks, who was 65 when she died Jan. 18, 2019, was a board member of the Joliet Unity Movement.

She had become involved with the Joliet Unity Movement several years ago as a citizen concerned for the children of Joliet, her son, Lonnell Westbrooks Sr. said in a Feb. 24 Herald-News story.

Joliet Unity Movement wanted to continue her vision with an annual scholarship. The applications for the first scholarships opened in February 2020.

To apply, students wrote an essay on the topic “How violence impacts our community.”

Joliet Unity Movement awarded the Loretta Westbrooks Scholarships to two students in October.

One was Daisa Norris, a sophomore at Dominican University and the second was KeAsha Smith, a senior at Bolingbrook High School. Each was awarded a $1,000 scholarship award.

A news release from the Joliet Unity Movement said each submission the organization received for the scholarships was carefully reviewed. Both Norris and Smith shared personal, first-hand accounts of how violence has affected their neighborhoods.

They also shared their passion for basketball and school as a means to keep themselves and their friends busy and driven.

In the Feb. 24 Herald-News story, Amy Sanchez, board development specialist with Joliet Unity Movement, said Westbrooks was “an amazing woman” who wanted solid resources in place to help students as much as possible.

Many of the people involved with Joliet Unity, including Sanchez and Westbrooks, had either been the victim of violence or had a loved one who was the victim of violence, Sanchez had said in that story.

Westbrooks also understood the experience, the power of prayer and forgiveness and the importance of making a real difference in the lives of the youth Joliet Unity serves, Sanchez had said.

“She said, ‘We cannot give people the message to stop violence without giving them alternatives – and education has to be that alternative,’ " Sanchez had said. “She wanted to do colleges to get them out of the neighborhoods so they could see what college campuses looked and felt like.”

For more information on Joliet Unity Movement, visit the facebook.com/JolietUM

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.