By Derek Joy
The journey of 12 years came to a successful end for 125 students when the 5000 Role Models held its 21st Annual Graduation and Scholarship Ceremony at Historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church in Overtown.
“We’re here today to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of these young men,” said Dr. Theron A. Clark, program administrator of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.
Hard work and sacrifice in-deed. It is no less for many of the 125 young men who attend 25 schools in the Miami Dade Public School District. They did not become victims of homicides, nor are they incarcerated.
Moreover, they were awarded college scholarships to pursue a higher education. The scholarships total in excess of $850,000, the largest amount in the 21 year history of the program.
“I was wondering if we could fill up St. Agnes,” said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. “It’s a great a day, a great day. Graduation is always a sad and happy occasion because we’re releasing our boys into the real world. We’ve had them since elementary school.
“It was 22 years whenever I looked at the news I kept seeing Black boys being arrested. I decided I’d seen enough. People said I was crazy when I gave up my $62,000 a year principal’s job to run a $17,000 a year seat on the School Board. I did and I founded the Role Models. This year we’re awarding $886,000 in scholarships to these young men.”
That idea of mentoring and guiding at-risk young men began as the 500 Role Models of Excellence. It has thrived as the 5000 Role Models of Excellence, gaining national and international acclaim.
The graduation and scholarship awards ceremony followed two days of Roundtable discussions and the Role Models Annual Senior High and Middle Schools Conferences.
Sun Life Stadium hosted the Conferences and Roundtable discussions that featured Miami Heat star and newly elected NBA Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning.
Also attending the Round-table discussions were: David Johns, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, Marco Davis, and Deputy Director of the White House Initiative of Educational Excellence for Hispanics and William Mendoza, Executive Director for the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education.
“It all started in 1776. You know the history,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feldman, Vice Chair-man of Miami Dade Schools. “It took until 2008 to get President Obama. It took until 60 years ago to see that separate was not equal in public schools.”
“And it took until 22 years ago to find Congresswoman Wilson who walked the walk that led to more than $800,000 in scholarship awards today. You will, in fact, be the next generations of leaders that will make this country greater and greater.”
The separate but equal premise in public education alluded to by Lawrence was the Landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Brown vs. Board (Kansas) Education. That decision was issued May 17, 1954. It officially struck down segregated public schools in America.
However, some see challenges to integrated public schools with the increase in public funding of Public Charter Schools.
“To the 350,000 students, 50,000 employees and over one million parents, we want to say congratulations because you are special. You are indeed special,” said School Board Member Wilbert “Tee” Hollo-way.
“This week we celebrated 60 years of Brown vs. Board of Education. It struck down sepa-rate but equal public education and other Jim Crow laws. Don’t be fooled. Public Charter Schools drain funds from our public schools. So don’t be fooled by the separate but unequal reality.”
The ceremony was high-lighted by the induction into the Role Models Hall of Fame of Miami Dade Judges Daryl Trawick, Rodney Smith and Eric Hendon, along with 11 other notable Role Model men-tors.
“When I quit my job 22 years ago I never dreamed of having such an event as we’re having today,” said Wilson.