It was a great, big coming together on Monday when newly-elected Congresswoman Frederica Smith Wilson, D-Miami, came home to host one of her pet projects: the 18th annual 5000 Role Models of Excellence Scholarship Breakfast.
The event paid tribute to the birth anniversary of the human rights leader and also 20 community leaders of Bahamian descent.
“They are giants and drum majors for justice and peace,'' Wilson told the 800-strong gathering held at Jungle Island on the MacArthur Causeway in Miami.
As Wilson closed her welcoming remarks, she introduced Euphenia Ferguson, a young woman from The Church of the Incarnation, to sing an original song, "I have a Dream." Wilson had heard it Sunday at The Church of the Incarnation and wanted her guests to hear it also.
The morning got off to a rousing start with a prayer from the Rev. Richard L. Marquess-Barry, Wilson's pastor and one of the 20 honorees. Members of the Royal Bahamas Police Force Band marched in their impressive uniforms. Ivan Johnson sang the Bahamian National Anthem, followed by Rochelle Lightfoot singing the American National Anthem.
Wilson founded the role-model mentoring project 19 years ago, at first calling it the 500 Role Models of Excellence Project, with men from the community actively mentoring at-risk boys.
On Monday, four more role models were added to the list: Cornelius A. Smith, special guest and ambassador of the Bahamas to the United States; Julio Robaina, mayor of Hialeah; Ralph Latortue, Haiti's consul-general; and Christopher Mosley, senior vice president and chief administration officer of the Jackson Health System.
For the young boys and their role models, it was more than just a gathering to hear pep talks and to be seen. This year, 75 mentees, all 2011 graduating seniors from schools throughout Miami-Dade County, were presented with full scholarships to attend college.
"A great number of these boys never dreamed they could go to college,'' said Role Model Robert Parker, retired director of Miami-Dade County Police Department. "So, today is a milestone for them. And I want to thank the mentors… because it will matter one day that we made a difference in their lives.''
In brief remarks, Miami-Dade County School Board Member and Role Model Wilbert T. Holloway said, " We endeavor to educate our children.'' Role Model Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, told the mentors, " You make the dream work.'' To the audience, Carvalho said, "Have faith on behalf of our children."
Later in the program, several honorees of Bahamian descent were recognized, some of their families coming to the United States in the 1880s, arriving in longboats at what is now Miami. Many settled in Coconut Grove, which was originally settled by Bahamian seamen and a few pioneering families. There they built homes, stores and paved the streets. Coconut Grove's oldest black settlement, today called West Grove, was established by Bahamian laborers who worked at the Peacock Inn.
According to information from the The Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida, Bahamian Americans were among the 161 required signatories in the incorporation of the city of Miami in 1896. These early settlers also helped build other early communities, including Lemon City, Overtown, Liberty City and Key West.
Wilson is the first female of Bahamian descent to serve as a member of Congress.
The honorees included Evelina Bestman, Edward Bullard, Audrey M. Edmonson, Thelma A. Gibson, Larry A. Handfield, Yolanda Cash Jackson, Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Barbara Jordan, Langston Longley, J. Kenneth Major, Richard L. Marquess-Barry, Preston Marshall, James Moss, Dennis Moss, Maud P. Newbold, Enid C. Pinkney, Garth C. Reeves, Frankie Rolle, Richard J. Strachan and Gwendolyn H. Welters.
Also honored were two distinguished Bahamians: Rome Italia Johnson and Gladys Johnson Sands.