This Keeper of the Dream 'has it all'


Published: Saturday, January 15, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 9:46 p.m.
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P.K. Yonge senior Lashay Delorise Clayton, 17, is this year's recipient of the Keeper of the Dream award.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial below a sweltering August sun in 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. beamed out his vision of racial unity and equal opportunity for all:
"Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children . . . I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today."
More than 41 years later, Lashay Delorise Clayton, a 17-year-old senior at P.K. Yonge High School, is the recipient of the 2005 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Award.
The award honors an Alachua County high school senior exemplifying the spirit of MLK. Recipients receive a one-time cash award to go toward his or her education. In the past, the award has typically ranged from $2,500 to $3,000.
Jackie Hart-Williams, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida, said Lashay was selected based on her academics, leadership skills, personal integrity, spiritual development and volunteering.
"Lashay is involved in activities that help promote the unity that Dr. King was famous for, and (she is devoted) to social justice and to the deeds that Dr. King dedicated his life," said Hart-Williams.
P.K. Yonge Principal Chris Morris has known Lashay since she was an eighth-grader.
"She's an extremely talented girl in so many ways," Morris said. "Besides her intellectual talents, she's a great singer, a great leader. She's charming. She has great poise. She'll have lots of opportunities in front of her, in whatever direction she wants to go. She's got it all. She's just a wonderful kid."
Lashay maintains a 4.1 weighted grade point average amidst a schedule crammed with commitments.
She is a member of the National Honor Society, Pre-Collegiate, and the March of Dimes' Chain Reaction Youth Leadership Council, among other student organizations.
She is also a talented actress, singer and dancer. At age 9, the Gainesville Community Playhouse cast her in "Miracle on 34th Street," her first theatrical performance. "She has an out-of-this-world voice," said Morris.
Lashay toured Europe for two weeks in June 2002 with the Gainesville Youth Chorus, where she sang for the Pope and performed with the Vienna Boys Choir.
Sherwin Mackintosh, director of the P.K. Yonge Performing Arts Center, said when he first arrived at P.K. Yonge about 1¶ years ago, "People kept saying, 'Oh, you've got to meet Lashay.' " He said she brought the house down singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from "Les Misérables" in the fall 2003.
Last spring, she played Kim, the female lead in the school's production of "Bye Bye Birdie."
"People marveled at her voice. She has a very high voice but a very powerful one, and a remarkable sense of pitch. She's just a great performer," said Mackintosh.
Lashay cheers for the varsity squad at P. K. Yonge, and even traveled to London last winter to cheer in the New Year's Eve London parade.
"I love it," said Lashay. "It's just me. It's who I am. I'm energetic, and I love to use the strength that I have."
She volunteers as a Precious Pearl with the Mu Upsilon Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Volunteer Center of Alachua County, and the church she's attended all her life, Church of God by Faith, a Pentecostal church.
"We go out in the community and help others at least once a month, feeding them, bringing them clothes," said Lashay. She enjoys playing board games and befriending kids whose families are struggling: "I want to be a friend for them to talk to."
She prays and reads the Bible daily, she said. Her favorite Bible passage is, "Let your light so shine among men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven."
She attends church twice on Sundays and on Tuesday and Thursday nights with her parents, James and Sheila Taylor, and her siblings, James Taylor, 15, a sophomore at Gainesville High School, and Janea Taylor, 13, an eighth-grader at Westwood Middle School. Her older brother, Benjamin Crawford, 19, lives in Atlanta.
"Academically, she inspired me," says her mom, Sheila, who at age 38 just started back to school at Santa Fe Community College, after being a long-time Head Start teacher's aide in Alachua County public schools. "It's time for me to pursue things."
Lashay dreams of becoming a pharmacist. She started volunteering full-time in the summers in the pharmacy at Shands at AGH between seventh and eighth grade. She's been volunteering there full-time every summer since. During the school year, she works part-time for Westlab Pharmacy.
"I want to do something to help other individuals," she said.
As a pharmacist, she will not only be giving medicine to make people feel better, she imagines encouraging people coping with an illness. "I'll tell them, 'Don't let things get you down. Life is still going on.' I think this will be a good way to spread the message and help others."
To what does Lashay attribute her success? "My upbringing. The many things I was taught at a very young age. My strong religious beliefs. And always having the desire to do more and be better than the regular ol' citizen. I strive to do the best I can and achieve a lot of things in life. I feel very honored to be named 'Keeper of the Dream.' "
Morris said she admires Lashay's ability to do it all.
"It's hard sometimes to balance all these things," said Morris. "But she does a good job to keep herself in harmony."
Julie Garrett can be contacted at (352) 374-5049 or by e-mail to garretj@gvillesun.com.

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