LAWRENCE, Kan. Genuine respect and admiration between all five Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence candidates reached the ultimate crescendo when the announcement came that Zion Bowlin was voted the 2017 Lawrence Youth of the Year, Thursday night at Liberty Hall.
Bowlin, a senior a Free State High School, was immediately hugged and cheered by the four candidates alongside him on stage. Ruth Gathunguri (sophomore, FSHS), Treven Hall (junior, FSHS), Christian LaPointe (junior, FSHS) and 2016 Kansas Youth of the Year, Jazmyne McNair (senior, Lawrence High School) absolutely shined during their own speeches, and shined all the more as they congratulated their fellow candidate.
“To be honest, I was so surprised,” Bowlin said. “The other candidates had amazing speeches and are all amazing people, as well. Its crazy because, before I started this, I hated speaking in front of people. I was like, Oh, I don’t think Im going to be able to survive this, but having everyone around me to pump me up and support me was just awesome.”
A crowd of more than 500 people filled Liberty Hall to witness the highest honor a Club kid can receive. That included Boys & Girls Club supporters and families, Lawrence Public Schools teachers and administration, representatives from title sponsor Peoples Bank and an impressive panel of judges. Youth of the Year is warmly regarded as an all-time favorite at the Club, and the number of people in attendance solidified that notion.
“To see that kind of support for these kids for the Club it gives you the drive to go forward,” said Colby Wilson, Executive Director. “The drive to do the things that we need to do to solve the problems that these kids were talking about.”
Bowlin and his fellow candidates agreed. All five were picked up at their respective schools to start the day. FSHS, LHS and even the Lawrence College and Career Center planned sendoffs for the candidates. They continued their support by coming to the event.
“I was really grateful to have all of these people come out and support me and all five of us,” Bowlin said. “It means a lot to me that people want to come out and see us talk and share our stories.”
Bowlin’s message was focused around his passion to ignite his generation to run one more sprint, push away from false feelings of entitlement and don’t take opportunities for granted. He thanked his dad for asking him everyday of his childhood what it means to be a leader. It has certainly paid off for him as he is also the captain of Free State High’s football and baseball teams. Although, this particular honor holds a special place in his heart.
“Winning Youth of the Year is superior to winning All-State for baseball and All-League for football,” Bowlin beamed after the announcement.
Bowlin will now go on to represent Lawrence at the Kansas Youth of the Year event on March 6 in Topeka. He has received athletic scholarship offers, and has narrowed his college decision to Baker, Emporia State or Wichita State, where he plans to major in pre-med/nursing.
The collective feeling on the night started and ended with the kids respect for each other. For months they worked with their dedicated Boys & Girls Club mentors to write essays, practice public speaking, serve at community service events, push each other out of their comfort zones and above all, grow as people.
“The five kids tonight were collectively the best group of candidates we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Wilson said. “I really appreciated the passion that they showed on the stage tonight. They were really passionate about the message that they sent out to the crowd. It shows how hard they worked, that they were so ready and prepared to do this. It was a great night.”