CONCORD, CA (Jan. 21, 2022) — Contra Costa County commemorated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at its 44th annual ceremony this week and a guest of honor at the virtual event was Ygnacio Valley High School senior Kaia Morgan, named the county’s student humanitarian of the year.
Morgan’s leadership role in helping replace her school’s Warriors mascot was cited as the key reason for her selection for the countywide award. The application from her English teacher Rosie Reid nominating Morgan said she “became interested in confronting social issues after gaining awareness of them online and quickly became passionate about addressing injustices against minorities.”
Her father, Walker Morgan, says his oldest child “is our family moral compass.”
Inspired by a class lesson on the harm of Native mascots, Morgan decided “to use her voice to speak out against racism on a more local level, starting with the Native mascot at her own high school. She started the Change the Mascot Committee at Ygnacio Valley.” A year later that became a reality following the student body vote that selected Wolves to replace Warriors, which had been the school mascot since it opened in 1962.
The Mt. Diablo Unified School District board is slated to make the name change official in an upcoming board meeting.
Morgan enrolled at Ygnacio Valley to start her freshman year but planned on transferring to Clayton Valley Charter High as soon as there was a space for her. YVHS’s International Baccalaureate program founder and teacher Carissa Weintraub says that “once Kaia heard about the IB program and made friends with other students, she decided to stay at our school.”
Weintraub says she “has had Kaia in two of my IB classes and she has always been an impressive scholar–reflective, compassionate, has mature critical-thinking skills and is an amazing writer. I’m sure I will tear up when she graduates as she has been an amazing addition to the IB program here at Ygnacio Valley.”
The senior is awaiting word on her college applications. Her career goal is to be pediatric psychiatrist. Her parents are both nurses. Besides her academic pursuits she has been active in dance (jazz, tap and ballet) for a dozen years. She is on the school stunt and cheerleading teams.
Also recognized on the virtual ceremony was adult humanitarian of the year Concord resident Gigi Crowder, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness. Crowder and Morgan were recognized for “their leadership, advocacy and service to Contra Costa County, its residents and communities in the spirit of Dr. King’s work and achievements.”
Morgan lives with her younger siblings brother Moses, a sophomore at YVHS who wrestles and plays football for the school, and sister Noelani and their proud parents, mom Rio and dad Walker. The honoree spent her MLK weekend at Yosemite with friends before getting back in time to watch her recorded comments on the virtual ceremony at school.
The celebration was presented virtually for the second year during the pandemic with Board chairperson Karen Mitchoff serving as the host. Featured keynote speaker was former San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson, the City of San Ramon’s first elected African American mayor. This year’s program also featured special guest Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Richmond resident.
Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.