MIAMI-DADE — Dozens of high school seniors and their families who entered the Historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church on Sunday left with an early graduation present – scholarships courtesy of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.
About 125 young men – all graduating seniors from Miami-Dade County Public Schools – participated in a special graduation ceremony where each received a scholarship to various colleges and universities. The scholarships are valued at nearly $900,000.
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, founder of the 5000 Role Models program, said she never imagined that the idea she conceived in 1993 would blossom to such an extent. The longtime educator had left her job as an elementary school principal to run for a seat on the Miami-Dade School Board.
“I never dreamed that my leaving that job would result in an event that we’re having today,” Wilson said.
The scholarships represent the culmination of years of training and participation by the young men in the program.
Educators and program supporters noted that the presentation coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs.
Topeka Board of Education decision. In that seminal U.S. Supreme Court case, justices declared illegal the nation’s practice of “separate but equal” in public education.
“This was a time when other Jim Crow laws were inadequate and unequal. Today we still have that challenge,” said Miami-Dade School Board member Wilbert T. Holloway. “Programs like this address that inequality. We expect you to come back in law enforcement, as teachers, lawyers, to continue breaking those barriers.”
Lawrence Feldman, vice chairman of the school board, applauded Wilson for her efforts. “It is the nation’s program,”Feldman said. Everyone deserves access and opportunity. We thank you for that.”
He also had words for the young men: “You’ve been given a gift. It’s now time to turn hope into success and leadership. You will come back as leaders in the working world, and you will be the next generation to make our county the greatest.”
Theron Clark, executive director of the Role Models, said the graduating seniors are slated to attend a number of colleges, both in-state and out-of-state. The academic awards typically range from $1,000 to $5,000. One student received a $58,000 full-ride scholarship to Florida A&M University.
Ashner Solomon, 19, a graduating senior at Mast Academy, is excited about his scholarship to Florida International University, where he will enroll this fall. But he’s more excited about the camaraderie and friendships he’s gained in the program. The Role Models provided him with older brothers. “It is like a brotherhood, a family type thing,” Solomon said. “It’s more valuable to have brothers to look up to.”
Gina Spicer, mother of 18-year-old Johnathan, is especially grateful for the program and the scholarship. Johnathan Spicer will attend Florida A&M University, and play on the basketball team. His mom watched the ceremony with deep gratitude.
“I’m just grateful that Dr. Wilson had the vision to create the program. Now the boys are from every level,” Spicer said. “It’s an awakening for the parents and the students. It’s a life-saving program for the young men in today’s society.”
In addition to the scholarship presentation, the Role Models program welcomed dozens of adult professional males who were inducted as new mentees. The newcomers represent a range of disciplines, including businessmen, attorneys, educators and law enforcement officers. Also, a number of inductees are members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding this year.