FORT LAUDERDALE — A member of Ilona M. Holmes’ church once told her she is black, ugly and won’t amount to anything. Holmes ignored the remark, went to college and then law school and is now Broward County’s only African-American circuit court judge.

The message she brought to an Opportunity Industrialization Center of South Florida (OIC) class: “You have the opportunity to do anything you set your mind to. You don’t have to get a job. If you can’t find one, create one.”

Holmes was the commencement speaker when the OIC held its annual graduation exercises May 1 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale  for students who have completed its Vocational and Employability Readiness Training Program.

She told the graduates to “take what you’ve learned and kick some doors down and let your haters be your motivators.”

For Alena Alberani, who received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), certification, the graduation was an empowering experience.

She was among some 600 students who graduated from various programs throughout the year.

“It was very emotional for some of the graduates backstage,” Alberani said.  “Some of these students have never participated in a graduation ceremony before. They are excited about what lies ahead and they feel more confident in their ability to find a job.

“The program is a great organization, because many of the students, like me, a single mom, wouldn’t have been able to afford these certifications and advancement opportunities if it weren’t for the OIC.”

The center has trained between 4,000 and 5,000 students in the past 13 years, according to Linda Badreddine, its Community Outreach officer.

The OIC programs were started in the 1970s by the late Rev. Leon Sullivan and currently has 44 centers in 22 states, as well as 18 overseas, mainly in Africa, Badreddine said.

The Broward County center was started in the 1970s but closed and was re-established in 2001.

The network of centers is dedicated to providing established vocational training and support services for the poor, the unemployed, underemployed and youth. The Broward center offers a range of services with afocus on self-help programs and initiatives.

The center’s work got a boost from the U.S. Department of Labor, which has provided a YouthBuild grant of $1.1 million to further its mission and expand its services.

The check was presented during the graduation exercises to OIC president/CEO Newton B. Sanon by Sherrie L. Wilson, federal project officer of the U.S. Department of Labor.

For more information about the OIC of South Florida, visit