GLOBAL EXCHANGE: Bottom left row: Marcia Andrews, Palm Beach County School board member; Center: Dr. Debra Robinson, longtime school board member; (right) Meng Zhonghua , Primary School Teacher and interpreter for the Chinese delegation from Jilin University in Jilin Provost, China; Top left: Wanda Buskirk, Riviera Beach business owner, Member of the American Chinese Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsor of the Chinese delegation to Riviera Beach; Top right: Debie L. Isaacs, Chief of Staff for Mayor Thomas Masters.



Special to South Florida Times

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. – It seems no matter the good that comes out of the predominantly black city of Riviera Beach, it’s often facing negative images and stereotypes.

But the mayor of this prime, waterfront municipality is determined to share the good of the city with those around the globe — and this time, it’s as far away as China.

Mayor Thomas Masters traveled to the faraway nation in 2012 to an international economics summit and again in 2017 as a follow-up visit. On the second visit, he gave a rousing talk to Chinese high schoolers.

Now, the relationships he’s forged are paying off. A Chinese delegation came to Riviera Beach to see the city firsthand and to meet with students in the city’s schools, which are located in the heart of the inner city. The delegation, which consisted of six representatives from Jilin University in Changchun, China, (including an interpreter), spent time visiting four schools in Riviera Beach to begin their exciting exchange opportunities. The schools included Suncoast High School, which always leads the pack as one of the top schools in the county; Inlet Grove High School; John F. Kennedy Middle School and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School.

“It’s important to have a relationship with China,” said Mayor Masters. “At one of our schools –Suncoast High School– we have the highest percentage of Asian students than any other school in the entire school district, and for that reason alone this relationship is important. There are of course many reasons this relationship is great. We’re in a global society, and young people can appreciate the concept of peace around the world. They value coming together for the sake of peace and unity. It’s one thing when someone can tell you about another culture, but it’s a different thing altogether when you can see it through your own eyes.”

The delegation wants some of the Riviera Beach students to visit China. The mayor is putting together an exchange program where students can stay for a period in China and attend classes or a special camp. Palm Beach County School Board members Dr. Debra Robinson and Marcia Andrews accompanied the delegation to the Riviera Beach schools while in town, and Robinson said she will work with the Mayor on the exchange program.

“China is an economic powerhouse,” said Robinson. “I want to create pathways for our students to be able to have businesses that do business with and in China-and other countries. This collaboration is significant because we are breaking down barriers -geographic, cultural, racial and language.”

The school board members desire to go beyond just student relationships. “I asked the delegation to assist us in identifying and recruiting bilingual teachers.

I want us to make Mandarin lessons available in our schools,” Robinson said.

The mayor said the exchange with China is good for economics and has worldwide implications and is a win-win situation for all parties. “It makes me feel good because Riviera Beach is an international city with our port, the marina and with mega-yachts coming in and out of the city from across the world.” The delegation also visited those other sites in the city and was impressed with what they saw as a global opportunity. “This is definitely a win-win scenario for everyone!” the mayor quipped.

For more information about the China exchange program for students, call 561-845-4000.