By: Genoa Barrow | Senior Staff Writer

Long after he’d retired from being a school educator, Frank Withrow still encouraged young people to work hard and aim high.

He celebrated youth with his annual “8th Grade Awards” for three decades, giving middle schoolers a chance to shine before heading off to high school. Withrow, a beloved area teacher, died last August after battling cancer, but the event will live on. The event will now be known as The Frank Withrow 8th Grade Awards.

“Before he passed, I promised Frank I would keep it going,” his widow, Karen Massie Withrow said of the event, now in its 33rd year.

Withrow served as a teacher and leader within the Sacramento City Unified School District for more than 30 years and was the longtime chair of the United Black Student Unions of California Advisory Board. He was also known as the “Kappa Rappa” and often shared his motivational raps and poems at the awards presentation. This year, the event, held virtually due to the continued coronavirus pandemic, was highlighted by videos of him performing the poems “Rosa Parks,” “Ebony Queen” and “People.” Enjamio “CJ” Richardson, a seventh grader at Natomas Charter School of the Performing Arts gave an emphatic recitation of Withrow’s signature “To Be Somebody” poem. 

The 8th Grade Awards was a labor of love for Withrow and often required a lot of footwork on his part, encouraging local principals and other school leaders to nominate Black students to highlight. Students are cheered on for high academic achievement, campus leadership and community involvement.

Ms. Massie Withrow walked in his shoes this year.

“Because students were still at home doing distance learning, it was difficult for the schools to get in touch with award winners and their parents, so, I chased down a lot of parents and grandparents to make sure we got photos, media releases and info on students,” she shared.

Hosts handed out 54 certificates — four students were eighth grade members of the Kappa League mentorship program — Zaiden Bush, Ahmad McFarlin, Chadwick Johnson, and Mason Beloney, who was also nominated by his school.  Thirteen area middle schools had participants, including all nine middle schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District. 


The Katherine L. Albiani Middle School honorees were Crystal Broadnax, Sherri Brown-Dawson, Sylvina Nwosu, and Nasha Sworn. The Edward Harris Jr. Middle School recipients were Iyanu Roger-Beckley, Dehryan Brown, Annabelle Ese, and Giana Orhue.

T.R. Smedberg Middle School’s honorees were Jaya Adams, Miricah Maye-Robinson, Anara Jefferson, and Angelina Miles. Samuel Jackman Middle School honorees were Aniyah Brown, Ajani Lewis, Jewel Murphy, and Shamar Poston. Toby Johnson Middle School honorees were Dejah Tyler-Wood, Yoel Tesfay, Kaden Bean, and Melisa Jones. Harriet Eddy Middle School honorees were Julianna Gibson, Miles Scaife, Serenity Edwards, and Chidimma Okeke. Elizabeth Pinkerton Middle School honorees were Kylah Avila, Hannah-Joy Ajayi, Mason Beloney, and Kennedy Hays. Joseph Kerr Middle School honorees were Jailah Gray, Darrius Griffin-Honable, Sebastian Jones, and Laurynn Little. James Rutter Middle School honorees were Amir Ray, Ja’Nya Coleman, Brandon Burraga, and Zackarihiss Payne. 

Honorees from the W.E. Mitchell Middle School in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District were Toristine Adger, Reginald Brown Jr., Anaiah Walker, and William Wallace. 

From the Sacramento Unified School District, honorees from Sutter Middle School were Alexandra Campbell, Kennedy O’Gilve Joplin, Drake Isaiah Ramos, and Kiara Yates. The Albert Einstein Middle School honorees were Alliya Smith, Israel Johnson, Layla Hall, and Taaliyah Brown. Rosa Parks Middle School honorees were Nevaeh Mendoza and Kayla Houston. 

The awards program gets a great deal of support from Frank Withrow’s beloved Sacramento Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and the Eta Gamma Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.  It has honored more than 2,000 students since 1987. The program was started because organizers recognized that outstanding middle school students did not have a program that honored them for their achievements.