William “DC” Clark’s decision to enroll in an African-American history class at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) changed his life.
On the first day of class, Clark said, his professor, a white male, announced that “all we needed to know about Africa is that its people were put on this earth to serve Europeans.”
Clark, now 53, said the professor told him that “until I could prove otherwise, that will be the truth that he would teach in his class.
“And that set off something in me that hasn’t been quieted down,” said Clark, who along with his wife, Stephana, ran the now defunct Afro-In Books and Things bookstore in Miami for five years.
Clark provided the professor documented proof that Africans created great civilizations; were kings, queens and masters in science and mathematics. But despite his efforts, the professor never recanted or said a kind word. The two, Clark said, “butted heads” the entire semester.
In the end it paid off, the North Miami resident said.
“I spent hours in the library doing research, learning about me. It was an awakening that made me become the man I am today.”
On Wednesday, April 14, JM Family Enterprises, Inc. will present Clark, a firefighter and paramedic for Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue and former public school educator, with the 2010 African-American Achievers Award for Community Service.
Clark is being honored for his commitment and dedication to the community as a public servant and role model, Colin Brown, president and CEO of JM Family Enterprises, Inc., said.
As one of four adult Achievers, Clark was selected by an independent panel of judges representing Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“After individually reviewing all the nominations from across the tri-county area,” Brown explained, “the judges convened for several hours to evaluate and advocate for their candidates of choice. The honorees were then selected by consensus.”
The ceremony will take place at the Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale.
The awards program was established in 1992 by Jim Moran, founder of JM Family Enterprises, Inc., Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC and JM Lexus, to recognize African Americans who unselfishly invest their time and talents toward building a stronger community.
The adult achievers are selected in the categories of Arts and Culture, Business and Entrepreneurism, Community Service and Education.
The winner of the Jerome Edmund Gray Youth Achiever Award, presented by the Jim Moran Foundation, has not yet been released. Each year, a high school senior who has qualified for financial aid and has been accepted for admission to Florida State University receives a four-year needs-based scholarship.
To further recognize the achievers, JM Family, Southeast Toyota and JM Lexus make an annual donation of $20,000 to local non-profit organizations, $5,000 in each Achiever’s name to the charity of his or her choice.
“I’m very honored, but not only for myself,” Clark said. “It’s about my parents and others who have assisted me on my journey from boyhood to manhood. It gives me the opportunity to shed light on not only my life but their lives as well as the lives of other professional black men.”
Clark’s father was a Miami-Dade public school teacher, counselor and coach who, Clark said, mentored many youth in the community.
His mother, Clark said, mentored to neighbors, “even when she didn’t have anything. She was someone you can always turn to. It’s the same for her today and she’s in her 70s.”
Raised in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, Clark saw his parents get divorced when he was 14, and he witnessed his mother’s struggles.
“There was no way I was letting her down by quitting, not following through on a free educational opportunity,” he said about his football scholarship to UNI.
“I saw how hard she worked to make ends meet. I wanted to do my part to graduate, come back and help her out.”
After college, where he majored in education and psychology, Clark returned to Miami and began teaching remedial English at American Senior High and coaching high school football at various senior high schools.
In 1983, he became a firefighter and paramedic, while continuing to teach until 1993.
Clark serves as president of the Miami Central High School Alumni Association. The group formed after receiving the news in 2005 that not only was Central an ‘F’ school, but also that another ‘F’ year could force its closure.
“When we heard that it would be turned into a charter school, many of us sprang into action. We formed the association with the mission to save the school.”
Clark said the association’s members touched base with the students and let them know that they were “a part of something much greater than themselves.”
The group, Clark said, challenged the state of Florida to bring in the best and the brightest administrators, educators and resources to make Central a place with a positive learning environment.
“They had started sending good people, but they had no experience,” he said.
“It’s a monumental feat, taking on a failing school and turning it into a progressive school conducive to learning.”
Each year, the association awards 50 laptop computers to Central’s students who complete their studies and receive an acceptance letter from a college.
“That was one of the ways we used to excite the student body, and it works.”
Clark and his wife, Stephana, have been married 23 years and have three children.
Other award winners include Emma Banks, Ph.D., founder and principal of Inlet Groove Community Charter High School in Riviera Beach, will receive an honor in the category of Education.
Leroy Jones will be honored for Business and Entrepreneurship. Jones is the founder of the Neighbors and Neighbors Association, Inc. (NANA), a nonprofit organization providing technical assistance to mom-and-pop businesses throughout Miami-Dade County,
Perry Stokes, a well-known performer and vocal instructor, will be honored in the Arts and Culture category.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 2010 African-American Achievers Award.
WHERE: Broward County Convention Center, Grand Floridian Ballroom, 1950 Eisenhower Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale.
WHEN: Wednesday, April 14 at 6:15 p.m.
COST: Free and open to the public.
CONTACT: For more information on the awards ceremony, its nominees or to RSVP for the event, call 866-516-2497 or visit www.africanamericanachievers.com. Reservation deadline is Friday, April 9.