De’Ja Echols

DANVILLE — This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship recipient looks forward to furthering her career in the criminal justice field.

The 2015 MLK Scholarship recipient was De’Ja Echols, 17, a senior at Schlarman Academy. Echols is the daughter of Glenda Roulaine and Eric Echols.

“I’m the baby,” Echols said about her family, adding that she has two sisters and a brother.

Echols’ application essay was chosen as the winner by the local MLK Jr. Celebration Committee for a $4,000 scholarship. The selection of the scholarship recipient, who had to be a 2014 high school graduating senior who plans to pursue his/her education at an institution of higher learning, is not based on any racial, religious, ethnic or cultural affiliation.

The announcement came earlier this month at the MLK Celebration Banquet.

Echols said after she graduates high school, she’ll plans to attend Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind. She’s been accepted into the honors program there and she will be studying criminal justice and criminology.

“My focus will be forensic investigations,” Echols said.

“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement since I was young,” she said, adding that she’s become close to some officers with the Danville Police Department.

She said seeing them at work has shown her “you can make a difference.”

“I would be very useful in that type of field,” Echols said.

For the scholarship essay, applicants had to pick an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and why that certain part speaks to the applicant the most. Echols said her excerpt focused on discrimination not just falling away and people having to make a difference and break through the barriers.

She said she wrote in her essay about her personal experiences with her nieces and nephews and about her reactions in front of them to discriminative things, racial biases and in certain situations.

“Shackles and chains don’t need to be present to feel discrimination,” Echols said.

Echols said she was in a state of shock and was honored to receive the scholarship.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I worked really hard on the application and essay itself.”

She said the $2,000 for each of her first two years in college will definitely help.

Sandra Houston, human relations administrator with the city, said Echols is a nice young lady who is a deserving of the scholarship.

Echols is expected to present her essay to the Danville City Council at its 6 p.m. Feb. 17 meeting at city hall.