Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson with some of her Wilson Scholars, who each received scholarships and laptops to attend the colleges of their choice. Photo Courtesy of Jerome McNeil.
By ISHEKA N. HARRISON
MIAMI – Last Friday was a big day for Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson’s 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.
In the morning over 120 young men filled Miami Northwestern Senior High School’s auditorium donning the signature red and black ties denoting membership. Later that evening 62 of the Project’s graduating seniors were named Wilson Scholars and signed scholarships to the colleges or universities of their choice.
Hailing from schools across Miami-Dade County, the young men waited in anticipation to hear from a man who faced and overcame challenges like the ones they encounter every day – The Honorable Judge Greg Mathis.
Mathis, who had his own television show and made history as the youngest person elected as a District Judge in Michigan – was the keynote speaker for the morning and evening events.
“When you come from a community that has a lot of obstacles, it really just strengthens you. If your neighborhood or community or household does not appear conducive, fight through that,” Mathis advised. “They’re going to reject you in some places. They’re not going to roll out the red carpet. There’s going to be racism, but you can’t give up.”
He encouraged youth to find their gifts, cultivate them and come back to serve their communities.
“If you work hard in every subject, you’ll find one that comes easy to you. Well that’s your gift and you must find it and develop it. … Then dream big,” Mathis said. “Be the owner, not the ownee (sic). Once you achieve success, do like the Congresswoman. Come and give back. Tell me what you’ve done for your community. Tell me what you have done for your family. If you want to be Judge Mathis or a Congresswoman Wilson, it’s service. Know, love and serve your people. That’s my formula for success and advice for you.”
Mathis said getting involved in gangs and street life doesn’t make one courageous, persevering to make something of oneself does.
“A lot of folks think they’re tough on the corner. You’re not tough on the corner. That’s not tough. That’s weak. You’re the tough ones. You’ve overcome it. You stood up to that fire,” Mathis said. “I didn’t give up like a punk and run to the corner and try to drink my problems away and smoke my problems away. Young men if you can hustle on those streets, it’s easier to hustle in college.”
Before Mathis took the stage, the young men had the chance to hear from various local leaders including Paul Wilson, Administrative Director of School Operations at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, as well as Congresswoman Wilson’s son; Donovan Campbell, Sports Anchor from WSVN 7; Miami Northwestern Principal Wallace Aristide; Reginald Fox, Principal of Robert Morgan Educational Center; Dr. Joseph Dubery, a 5000 Role Models and Northwestern alum who received his white coat; NBC6 Anchor Jawan Strader; and several renowned pastors from various local churches. Mathis and Strader were both inducted as Role Models.
Paul Wilson told the students they were in a safe space to have a very real conversation.
“We’re going to have a very comfortable conversation about some uncomfortable topics. Our city seems to be at war,” Paul Wilson said. “Gun violence is running rampant throughout every street and every avenue that you turn down, Inside of these walls is not a reflection of the nonsense that’s going on out there.”
He admonished them to know their worth, separate fantasy from reality and understand what they are fighting against.
“We’re talking to students who know they are destined to be kings and queens as they are standing on the shoulders of the kings and queens that came before them. The problem is that’s not the narrative being told,” Paul Wilson said. “The path from childhood to manhood for minority men can be an extremely difficult one. … 40 year-olds can’t solve the problems of millennials. There are certain things you hold near and dear that we don’t necessarily understand … We want to understand from you what’s going on. How can we help you help yourself?”
The panel of pastors discussed the role spirituality is playing in society and the role it should play.
“Jesus did not come to found a religion … He came to re-establish what we lost in Genesis and that is a relationship with God. I’m a pastor but I can’t stand church folk, because church folk can be some of the worst folk,”
said Pastor Steve Caldwell of New Providence Missionary Baptist Church. “How can I prescribe something for you if I don’t even know what your illness is? We think we know what’s right for you without even talking to you. We have to be accepting of people where they are, but understand where I meet you is not where I’ll keep you.”
Congresswoman Wilson, who is a graduate of Miami Northwestern, told the Role Models they could be anything they wanted and she was there to make sure they are successful.
“I am here for one reason; I am here because I love you. I will die for you because I know how hard it is to be you because I was you,” she said. “I don’t want you to ever forget that Congresswoman Wilson works 24 hours a day, seven days a week for children like you and children who look like you. … Whenever you try to fly there will always be someone standing on your wings. You can either let them hold you down or you can take them with you.”