When 17-year-old Jeffrey Warren stepped on stage to accept his $1,000 college scholarship from the Martin Luther King Senior Citizens Club, there were a few snickers and a hush from the surprised crowd.
After all, the Riverside, Calif., student at Martin Luther King High School was white, but the scholarship was intended for African-American students. So Warren did what he thought was right—he gave it back.
“I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Warren was quoted in MSNBC.com.
The club’s members did not know that Warren was white until he rose to accept the award named for the late civil rights leader. For his part, Warren said he also did not know the scholarship was intended for African-American students, as he applied online and missed that section.
Warren and his parents sent an e-mail to the club of his decision to return the award, but he will not leave the situation empty-handed. The now graduated senior applied for 27 scholarships and won three others, MSNBC.com reported. Teachers at his school inspired by his decision also took up a collection, presenting him with an envelope with $351 at his graduation party.
The scholarship is written for African-American seniors, and organization using private money can choose any criteria they wish for scholarships, the Press-Enterprise in Riverside reported.
Todd Pollard, a teacher at King, said he felt sorry for Warren but added that his decision spoke to his character.
“I don’t think many people would have returned it,” Pollard told the Press-Enterprise.
The club later gave the scholarship to an African-American student at the school, and said it will change the wording on next year’s application to make it more clear who is eligible to apply.
Todd Pollard, another teacher at King High, said he felt bad for Jeffrey because winning a scholarship isn’t easy. Pollard recalled the feeling of accomplishment he had when he won scholarships as a teen.
Jeffrey’s decision to return it speaks to his character, the language arts teacher said.
“I don’t think many people would have returned it,” Pollard said.