Columbus State University students Ernestine Dozier and Amaka Iloegbunam were honored Tuesday as the first recipients of the Thomas Keith Slay Memorial Scholarships during a ceremony in the University Hall lobby, but the idea for the fund that honors the fallen police officer was sparked along a motorcycle ride across America last year.
Brian Brock, market manager for the Columbus branch of W.W. Grainger Inc., an international industrial supply company headquartered in Lake Forest, Ill., was among the 12 participants who rode their motorcycles through the 48 continental United States in Scott's Ride for Miracles, the annual fundraiser Country's Barbecue co-owner Scott Ressmeyer leads to benefit the Children's Miracle Network at Midtown Medical Center.
For a hotel roommate, Brock was paired with retired Columbus Police Department officer Rick Stinson, who was special agent in charge of the Metro Narcotics Drugs Task Force.
"Rick taught me about the sacrifices that a person who chooses law enforcement for a career makes," Brock said.
One of their stops was in Washington, where Stinson urged his fellow riders to visit the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Stinson and Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley, another rider, told Brock about fallen colleagues.
"The memorial is a very reverent place," Brock said. "I was humbled to be there, but I was more humbled to be there with Sheriff Jolley and with Rick."
The riders returned to Columbus in May. A month later, Cpl. Slay was killed in a car accident while on duty. He served in local law enforcement for more than 30 years, first in the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office, then with the police.
"I did not know Officer Slay, although I have many other friends in the department." Brock said. "I knew that Rick knew Keith very well, and after the accident, I called Rick and I said, 'Rick, I've got an idea,' and he took it from there."
Brock's suggestion led to the Grainger Foundation starting the fund for the scholarships.
"This is about remembering a fallen officer," Brock said. "This is about ensuring the future of superior law enforcement in our community."
In 2003, Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren asked Slay to set up the narcotics task force's first aviation program, which became the best in the state, Stinson said.
Stinson confessed that he is so afraid of heights that he doesn't like to climb ladders, but he had no doubts about flying with Slay as the helicopter pilot because he trusted him so much. Stinson choked up as he called the scholarship another example of Slay helping people.
"I think he'd be proud," Stinson said. "I hate that we're doing this in his name because of why, but I'm proud for the recipients."
Then he turned to Dozier and Iloegbunam and added, "I hope that you can get into the criminal justice field. And if you do half the job that Keith did, you'll be great."
The students made it clear they understand Slay's legacy.
"I didn't know him personally, but, from what I've heard, he was an awesome man and gave back to his community and cared about his community," said Iloegbunam, 21, from Grayson, Ga. "So knowing that and receiving this scholarship in his honor makes me want to be a better person."
She also wants to be a criminal defense attorney after she graduates in December.
"You have the misconception that criminals are always guilty," she said. "I want to give people a voice and help them."
Dozier's goal is to become a lawyer as well "to help those less fortunate. So many people just don't know their rights. They don't know the law. I want to give back."
Dozier, 57, retired in 2007 from the DeKalb County Sheriff's Office after 14 years as a court liaison. She moved to Columbus to live closer to her daughter and pursue her bachelor's degree.
"I didn't have it at the time," she said, "and that's a glass ceiling."
She told the crowd during the ceremony, "This scholarship is a reminder of the Constitution and its guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, there will be opportunities. But you have to be prepared. Without the opportunity, the guarantee is just an empty promise. Cpl. Slay shared the opportunity by serving others. Thank you for honoring his memory."
Faculty in the CSU Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology selected the scholarship recipients in consultation with department chairman Michael Bailey. The criteria includes grade-point average, performance in the classroom and involvement on campus and in the community
Bailey worked with Slay in the sheriff's department.
"He was a special individual," Bailey said. "Sharp, intellectual, bright in every way you can imagine."
Bailey recalled asking Slay, "With all this knowledge you have and all this experience, don't you think you can go get a better job somewhere?"
Slay replied, Bailey said, "It's not always about the money I think Keith loved what he was doing."HOW TO HELP
Contributions to the Thomas Keith Slay Memorial Scholarship Fund can be made in the following ways:
Online: Go to www.ColumbusState.edu/Giving, select "Designate My Gift" and check "Other" under the College of Letters and Sciences tab, then specify "Thomas Keith Slay Scholarship Fund."
Mail: Make your check payable to CSU Foundation and note on the memo line the donation is for the "Thomas Keith Slay Memorial Scholarship Fund. Mail the check to the CSU Foundation, 4225 University Ave., Columbus, GA 31907.
Phone: Call the CSU Foundation office at 706-568-2028.