The National Civil Rights Museum and International Paper recently awarded the Keeper of the Dream Award to Hutchison senior Rheagan Crenshaw. The award recognizes acts of compassion, leadership, commitment, and service in the Memphis community. The museum is dedicated to celebrating the heroism of young people who will have the responsibility of safeguarding freedom while ensuring equal rights and opportunities for others.
When Rheagan Crenshaw sees something she wants to be fixed, she pushes for it to happen. It’s something many people say they do, but Rheagan’s actions show she means it.
After her grandmother died several years ago, Rheagan started Rheas of Hope, a volunteer initiative encouraging relationships that improve the quality of life of the elderly.
“I was missing having that presence in my life of having someone older, wiser, and comforting. I started thinking about how many people must feel the same if their family is so far away or if their loved ones have died,” Rheagan said.
Rheas of Hope creates volunteer opportunities that connect teenagers and senior citizens at various local nursing homes. Students visit different nursing homes to talk with residents, play bingo, and participate in other activities. Rheas of Hope has found safe ways to continue its work during the pandemic, a time that’s made loneliness worse for many senior citizens.
Rheagan is proud of what she has accomplished, from holding a cookie decorating contest to organizing a drive-by that brought cheer and pandemic supplies. She said they’re small things that can make a big impact on everyone. Most importantly, she cherishes building relationships with senior citizens.
"I have made so many new best friends. It is so much fun just being with them and helping them feel more loved,” she said. “Having long-lasting relationships in your life is so valued, and it should never be taken for granted.”
Rheagan also aims to make a difference by serving on the Teen Executive Board of the Jack and Jill of America, Memphis Chapter, a membership organization of mothers with children ages 2-19 dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving, and community involvement.
In September, she represented the chapter at a legislative summit in Washington, D.C. Rheagan met with different lawmakers about issues including voting rights, education, and equality, and she pushed for certain bills to be passed. This comes after she noticed how difficult it was for senior citizens to get out and vote during the 2020 election. Rheagan said some of them were not even registered, and she wanted to help.
“It's so important for everyone to be able to vote,” she said.
These efforts are why the National Civil Rights Museum and International Paper are honoring Rheagan. The Keeper of the Dream Award celebrates and recognizes the hard work and dedication of young leaders who are taking action and are demonstrating a commitment to ensuring equal rights and opportunities for others.
"It's very humbling and exciting. I hope that it inspires my peers to go out, make their own social projects, and help in their community," Rheagan said.
Rheagan has many sources of inspiration for her work at Hutchison, where she has attended since 8th grade. She is a member of the Equity and Inclusion Council, She Leads, and the dance team. Rheagan said seeing girls make a difference made her realize she could do the same.
“Seeing that constantly makes you believe that you can actually do great things too,” Rheagan said.