role models of excellence project_web.jpgOPA-LOCKA — Seventy-five young men marched down the aisles to Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International in Opa-locka as they got ready to receive scholarships, laptops, printers and other gifts from the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.

“I’m ecstatic that this is taking place. These young men are completing high school and moving forward and we are so pleased to have so many of them doing so,” Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, founder of the project, said in an interview.

The May 9 program included a welcome, invocation, musical selections, speeches from community leaders – including a video presentation for the mentees from Alonzo Mourning – and an induction ceremony for new Role Models.

Florida Memorial University President Henry Lewis III, who was one of the inductees, along with Makola Abdullah, gave the keynote speech, encouraging the young men to press forward regardless of the obstacles they may encounter.

“Failure is not final unless you let it be. If you fall down, get back up,” Lewis said.

The students represented high schools around Miami-Dade County, including, American, Booker T. Washington, Coral Reef, Design and Architecture, Felix Varela, G. Holmes Braddock, MAST Academy, Miami, Miami Central, Miami Edison, Miami Jackson, Miami Lakes, Miami Northwestern, Miami Palmetto, North Miami Beach, South Dade, South Miami and William H. Turner Technical Arts.
“I feel very proud and humbled to receive this,” said Rubintz Laguerre, a student at Turner Tech.

His classmates agreed.

“It was an honor to be given this scholarship. I actually don’t even really have the words to express how much it means,” said Joseph Blackman, also of Turner Tech.

“I’ve learned that success is key to living a good life and I’m proud to be on my way to accomplishing it,” added Elkino Watson of Booker T. Washington.

Parents were also thankful.

“I’m so proud and I thank God for answering our prayers,” said Joseph’s mother, Carolyn. She said she taught her son he could do all things through faith in Christ. “I instilled in him to be the best young man he could be, so being here to see him receive this was very inspiring.”

Elkino’s mother, Latarsha Watson, was equally proud of her son.

“He’s overcome a lot of obstacles since he was in middle school and become the man I’ve always wanted him to be,” she said.

All 75 of the scholarship recipients have been accepted to at least one college.

Wilson was pleased the mentees had succeeded in defying the odds.

“We’re so proud of them because it’s not easy being a young boy in America today. That red tie they wear is special. It signifies they are somebody heading for greatness,” she said.