Kennedy-King scholarships support students for more than 50 years

Kennedy-King scholarships support students for more than 50 years

Kennedy-King scholarships support students for more than 50 years
The Kennedy-King Memorial College Scholarship Fund was established in 1968 – the year when both Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. (Photo courtesy Kennedy-King College Scholarship Fund)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Jan. 25, 2022) — A memorial fund named for Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy still thrives more than 50 years after its inception, providing students facing hardships a chance to continue their education.

Since 1968, the Kennedy-King Memorial College Scholarship Fund has awarded nearly $6 million to more than 900 Contra Costa County community college students transferring to comprehensive universities. With two scholarships bestowed in its first year, the fund now awards more than $300,000 annually in dozens of scholarships.

The awards honor King, who was killed on April 4, 1968, and Kennedy, who was shot on June 5, 1968, during the presidential primary campaign.

Eligible applicants include students with financial need who have demonstrated leadership potential, community commitment and academic success at one of the three community colleges – Contra Costa in San Pablo, Diablo Valley in Pleasant Hill and Los Medanos in Pittsburg – and are from minority groups underrepresented at California’s four-year colleges and universities. The application period is open through Feb. 4.

Coretta Scott King sends approval

In 1968, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter thanking the organizers of the Kennedy-King Memorial Scholarship Fund. (Photo courtesy Kennedy-King College Scholarship Fund)

The local group’s archives of photos and documents depict decades of recognition, community volunteers and tributes from distinguished leaders, including King’s wife. Coretta Scott King sent her appreciation after learning of the tribute to her activist husband, who promoted non-violence.

“I appreciate your letter of November 15, informing me of the establishment of the Kennedy-King Memorial College Scholarship Fund,” Scott King wrote in a Nov. 26, 1968, letter.

“My husband was always interested in the thoughts and actions of young people, and was deeply grateful for the large part they have always taken in the struggle for human rights,” she continued. “Please extend my very best wishes to the students who are recipients, and also to all those involved in the establishment of the Kennedy-King Scholarship Fund.”

‘Blown away over the hardship’

John McPeak connected with the Kennedy-King organization nearly five decades ago, when the now retired educator and his wife, Sunne McPeak, not yet a Contra Costa County Supervisor, attended a 1973 scholarship celebration dinner through their involvement in county politics. The recipient speeches earned the couple’s lasting support.

“We were just blown away over the hardship they overcame and the commitment they made,” he said. “We’ve been pretty lucky in many ways, and we chose to donate our philanthropic giving to the Kennedy-King fund.”

A board member since 2006 and president for nine of those years, McPeak has worked with the executive board overseeing annual fundraising from corporations, individuals, family and charitable organizations that draws more than $300,000. Additionally, an endowment fund tops $2 million.

Board members also contribute time, serving as informal mentors to one or two scholars moving on from community college. “By far, the most rewarding part is working with the recipients and seeing them blossom and grow,” McPeak said.

Mojdeh Mehdizadeh, executive vice chancellor of the Contra Costa Community College District, agrees. Already familiar with the Kennedy-King organization from past interaction with community college students, she joined the board two years ago.

“Absolutely the most rewarding part for me is the mentorship piece – seeing them accepted and staying connected,” Mehdizadeh said. “It’s important to stay connected and we help them with the ups and downs of college life until they graduate. Nearly all are first generation college students,” Mehdizadeh said. “Literally, it changes lives – for the scholars and the mentors.”

Gratitude from ­recipients

Alejandro Ruvalcaba, a 2014 Antioch High School graduate, attended Los Medanos Community College and then, with the help of a Kennedy-King scholarship, UC Davis. The unexpected loss of his father thwarted his initial pre-med studies, but his college preparation armed him for a business career as owner of Cal-City Tree Care.

“School gave me the skills to work and be successful – communication, management, business,” said Ruvalcaba, who manages a staff of five plus several trucks, chippers and stone grinders.

“I recommend people to seek it,” he added, expressing gratitude for the scholarship organization. “I could not have gone to college without it.”

Daniel Ponce

Daniel Ponce, a manager in the affordable housing ­industry, is one of several former recipients who have now joined the board of directors.
“Receiving the scholarship occurred at a key transition in my life and validated that I was heading in the right direction,” said Ponce, who in 2007 transferred from Contra Costa Community College to Cal State East Bay.

The first in his family to attend college, he cites mentor support from Jim Kennedy, a board member since 1990 and a past president for 10 years who heads up donor relations, as a key to his success.

Ponce is ready to embrace the same sense of commitment. He attended his first board meeting Jan. 10, seven days before the national day of recognition for one of the men for whom the organization is named.

“Martin Luther King has always been someone who inspired me, someone who always believed in equality and speaking up when something wasn’t right,” he said. “He is someone who really shaped my core values, even to this day. I hope that my small contribution to this organization and to my community is a way I can follow in his footsteps.”

For application, donor or organization information, please go to

Karen Jenkins
Karen Jenkins
Correspondent |

Karen Jenkins is pleased to be a correspondent with the Concord Clayton Pioneer News. She has worked as a community journalist on and off for three decades at publications including the Contra Costa Sun in Lamorinda; the Antioch Daily Ledger; the Avon-Beaver Creek Times in Colorado; Roll Call in Washington, D.C. and the Daily Nexus at UC-Santa Barbara. She is also the student advisor for The Sentinel, the student newspaper at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She may be reached at