Groups of students, alum and members of the Xavier and Cincinnati community sitting at tables during a past Antonio Johnson Scholarship Gala


Feb 20, 2023

The 40th Antonio Johnson Leadership Award was awarded to a Xavier student at the Antonio Johnson Gala on Friday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. in the Cintas Center. The award recognizes the excellence of Black and African American students at Xavier.

This year’s black-tie event featured reigning Mrs. Universe Juanita Brown Ingram in honor of the gala’s theme, “Royalty is in our DNA.” It was the first time the gala was celebrated in person since 2019.

The award and gala are named after Antonio Johnson, a former Xavier student and activist who was an active member of the Roman Catholic church in the 1970s.

“He was the first student to lead us in initiatives for starting a Black Awareness Month program and was gathering information to start and launch our Black Student Association,” said Ivy Banks, vice president for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

Sadly, Johnson passed away in 1976 before Black Awareness Month. However, his dedication to the Black and African American community, to Cincinnati and to his stellar academic performance at Xavier left a lasting impression.

“Every year since Antonio Johnson’s passing, we have recognized his legacy here on our campus and also the legacy of excellence that he left for Black and African American students that have been a part of our community,” said Banks.

The gala is one of Xavier’s most essential traditions, serving as one of the largest gatherings for alums of color, students, staff and faculty.

“It is also how we recognize and highlight the work of our students so they can see the impact they have while they’re here at Xavier,” said Banks.

The scholarship award, which covers full tuition, room and board for a student’s senior year, is traditionally awarded to a junior of African or Black descent who has demonstrated academic excellence, leadership and service to the Black Student Association (BSA). Students who fit these criteria are nominated by a fellow student or staff member and invited to apply. After three finalists are selected, the winner is announced at the gala.

“When we think about food, housing and financial insecurities, we know that these issues are escalated for our students, particularly the Black and African American student population. That’s not stereotypical or anecdotal," said Banks, “That’s why this award goes directly to students achieving the highest and giving back to Xavier, in a way for us to give back to them and show that we recognize them.”

Keylan West, the 2022 Antonio Johnson scholarship recipient and president of BSA says the scholarship not only relieved her of the disparities Banks mentioned, but it also allowed her to help others in the Xavier community in a meaningful way.

"One of the questions you’re asked when interviewing for the scholarship is 'How do you plan on living up to the legacy?'. By working on BSA (formerly as treasurer and now as president), I’ve been able to reach a vast number of Black students, and I’m able to expose them to things like AJ and do the work that continues that legacy, which is academic excellence, wellness and belonging," West said.

Those values also inform the mission of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) at Xavier.

“One of the things we focus on is radical care for our students,” Banks said. “We approach radical care in a myriad of ways, one of those is highlighting the work accomplished by our students outside of the classroom. We want our community to see the impact our students are having and how they elevate excellence on and off our campus.”

Banks believes Johnson’s legacy shaped the evolution of Xavier’s Black History Month programming. “We wouldn't be here without the foundation laid by Antonio Johnson. We want to honor his legacy because it continues to shape who we are as a Jesuit Catholic institution.”

For more information on how to attend the Antonio Johnson Gala or how to sponsor a student, visit the Center for Diversity and Inclusion webpage.

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