FORT LAUDERDALE — Hope Williams is looking forward to an enthralling new life on her own.
As she gears up to enter Florida State University in the summer, the 18 year-old pauses to attribute her success to her parents, Joseph and Genise Williams, who kept their four children on a tight leash.
She is the second eldest of an Army veteran turned truck driver and pastor, as well as a mother who held down the household while also working as a secretary.
“They were very strict. It’s been very disciplined and very organized and focused, but it has made me the person that I am,” said Williams, of Hollywood. “And everything we needed, if they could’ve given it to us, they have.”
JM Family Enterprises last month named Williams its Jerome Edmund Gray Youth Achiever. She was one of three students selected as finalists for the need-based, four-year scholarship.
“Hope was chosen because of her tenacity to overcome unexpected life circumstances and determination to achieve,’’ said Christie Caliendo, a representative for JM Family Enterprises, in an email to the South Florida Times. “In addition to Hope’s academic accomplishments, her compassion and in-action commitment to serve others made her a stand out among her peers.”
Williams was among the honorees April 16 at the 17th annual African-American Achievers awards ceremony at the Broward County Convention Center.
Her name was announced at the event, which also honored four adult African-American community leaders.
The other honorees are Rosalind Osgood, an ordained minister at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale; artist Charles Mills; Jim McKinley, president of McKinley Financial Services, Inc.; and Niara Sudarkasa, the former president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and a consulting scholar at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale.
Williams has maintained remarkable academic prowess at Miramar High School, capturing a spot among the top 10 percent for the past three years.
The Miami native balances her demanding International Baccalaureate (IB) courses with serving on the student council, and sharing her musical talents on the school choir as well as the praise and worship and liturgical dance team at her father’s church, Love Gives International in Hollywood.
Yet her biggest accomplishment came last year when she spearheaded a children’s book drive that garnered more than 200 books for the U.S. Army’s United Through Reading program. Through the program, deployed military parents send videos of themselves reading children’s books to their children. At the time the project began, it was in desperate need of children’s books for ages 3 to 8.
“My teacher told me of the program, which she found in an article in an educational magazine, American Educator. I organized a school-wide book drive for this cause, with the help of a few of my classmates. We had a school car wash to raise the money to ship these books to deployed soldiers in Afghanistan,” Williams said with pride.
The rest of the money was donated to a non-profit AIDS research organization.
Made of equal parts charisma and intellect, Williams has also spent the last three summers working as a camp counselor to special needs children at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie.
The experience served as an integral part of her journey into adulthood, and inspired her to serve and empower disabled youngsters to realize their strengths.
“After my second year working with the children at the camp, they really affected me and they taught me and showed me so much,’’ Williams said. “I feel like they have been stigmatized in our society and they’re discriminated against. I felt, what can I do to help them better cope in our society and for people to better understand them?’’
Presented by JM Family Enterprises, Inc., the Forbes-ranked 23rd largest privately held company in the United States, and its subsidiaries – Southeast Toyota Distributors, LLC and JM Lexus – the awards event was a continuation of the vision of the company’s founder, the late Jim Moran.
With funding provided through the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at Florida State University, each year a high school senior who qualifies for financial aid – and has applied and received admission to FSU – receives a four-year, need-based scholarship.
Williams’ award is named after 1995 African-American Achiever Jerome Edmund Gray, Esq., who died in 1997 at age 38. Gray is best remembered as an accomplished lawyer, volunteer and role model for students.
Each year, JM Family Enterprises Inc. works with FSU to identify students who have a huge financial need as determined by their Federal Student Aid application.
“The fact that I was chosen over other people for the scholarship has humbled me,’’ Williams said. “It makes me focus even more because now I have so many people believing in me and who have put so much support in me.
It pushes me to make sure that I use the resources they gave me to my full potential.”
Photo: Hope Williams