Nearly one year ago, Tiffany Rice of Evanston stood at Koi restaurant on Davis Street, tearfully accepting an award.
It recognized her strength after the Sept. 22, 2012 murder of her son, Dajae Coleman, 14.
Dajae, an Evanston Township High School freshman, was gunned down on a sidewalk near the school while he was walking with friends.
The memory of Dajae, an exemplary student, inspired his mother to start the Dajae Coleman Foundation, a service organization that provides scholarships and other outreach such as food baskets and holiday gifts to families in need.
“It was just a year ago that I stood at this podium to be presented with the Forrest E. Powell Work Ethic Award,” said Rice, of the honor awarded by Hecky Powell, an Evanston restaurateur and community leader. “And now, just a year later, I am [here] again, but instead presenting scholarships of my own.”
On March 2, the foundation offered two scholarships to ETHS freshmen Jordan Wallace, 15, and Aaron Smith, 14.
“I just know that this is something that [Dajae] would want,” said Rice. “As much as I praised him and pushed him to always excel, to give his very best, he would want me to do that to others, so that’s my mission.
Rice, who has a daughter, Savannah, maintained her composure during the inaugural Dajae Coleman Achievement Award Ceremony.
“Tiffany is as dynamic as her son, and I am delighted to support the Dajae Coleman Foundation,” said Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who attended the presentation at 624 Davis St.
Powell was pleased that Koi’s banquet area was filled with well-wishers.
“This is a great turnout tonight, and that’s because of Tiffany and what she stands for,” said Powell. “We will always remember her son, he was a great kid.
“Tiffany Rice is a great friend and person for the Evanston community.”
Tributes such as these continued. A live auction netted more than $2,000, enough to fund next year’s scholarships at $1,000 each.
Scholars are encouraged to grow as individuals with the scholarship applied to their post-secondary education. Both Jordan Wallace and Aaron Smith said they did not know Dajae but feel like he could have been their friend.
“We read a paper he wrote, so I was able to get to know him,” said Jordan.
“What he stood for was great, “ Aaron said. “Truthfully, everybody needs support, and he had support from his family and friends.”
Rice said the qualities the foundation looks for in scholars are leadership, humility, academic achievement and positive social interactions.
“That was my son’s recipe for success,” Rice said.
Both recipients said they have a hard time thinking that someone their age could senselessly lose a life.
“It was just tragic,” said Aaron. “What kind of person just goes around shooting people, I mean, seriously? I mean, why?”
The two scholars were chosen by ETHS Humanities teachers.
Dajae’s mother said it was important to recognize scholars early as freshmen, to encourage them to achieve their personal best with the balance of their high school career ahead.
Aaron Smith hopes to attend Evanston Northwestern University.
“I just want to say this,” said Rice, as she presented the award to Aaron. “As long as you continue to be a champion in everything you do, your dream of going to Northwestern is guaranteed. Success is limitless.”
For more information, visit www.dc3f.org.