Since then, thousands have gone through the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project to become well-respected public servants in politics, education, criminal justice and law.
Program graduates, such as Miami-Dade County Commissioners Kionne McGhee and Keon Hardemon, North Miami Beach Commissioners Michael Joseph and McKenzie Fleurimond, Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Reggie Leon, Florida Memorial University president Jaffus Hardrick, the Rev. Carl Johnson and Sen. Shevrin Jones, were recognized for their respective accomplishments at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast event Monday.
What began as a mentorship program in select Miami-Dade County schools has evolved into an expansive effort to keep young men in Florida’s Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas and Duval counties, and Wayne County in Michigan, out of trouble and on the road to achieving academic and professional success.
“I believe that if every boy in these United States were a part of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence, there would be no need for the prison industrial complex,” Wilson told The Miami Times.
The program, Wilson announced at the Monday event, will expand into the Los Angeles Unified School District, Birmingham City Schools in Alabama and the Baton Rouge School District in Louisiana.
“We at Los Angeles Unified will be initiating a similar program for this effort starting next year,” said Alberto Carvalho, the school district’s superintendent and the former Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent, in a prerecorded video message. “The model and impact of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program will be felt on the West Coast. I can think of no better way to honor the legacy and the work of Dr. King.
“The legacy of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence is immeasurable. As a role model myself, I continue to be inspired by the stories of young men impacted by the program, many of whom have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to succeed both personally and professionally.”
Approximately 50 young men, who will be receiving scholarships to attend four-year universities debt-free, were also honored at the 31st annual MLK Scholarship Breakfast event at the Miami Beach Convention Center Monday morning.“This program was a lot more helpful than I thought,” said Sem Omiscar, a scholarship recipient and senior at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School. “Not only does it encourage mentoring and following a right path, it brings us together as one community and allows us to go through manhood together.”
The scholarship, Omiscar said, will help support his dream of becoming a clinical lab scientist to help save lives.
“It’s changed my life,” said Bryan Denis, a student at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School. “I have experienced so many opportunities that not many people my age would have access to or be appreciative of. One, we’re getting scholarships to go to college, [which] is so amazing. And two, we’re able to make connections with people that can help further improve our lives and then be able to improve other people’s lives.”
“This is not a good time to be a young Black boy or young boy in America, because there are laws that are being formulated that will serve as barricades for success,” said Wilson about this year’s graduating class. “It makes it harder for us to release them. Every time I see a Black boy, my heart breaks, it breaks because I know how much they have to endure and how much this nation tries to stop them, so we take them and we train them. And that’s why I call myself Frederica Prevention Wilson.”
“It’s so important for us to understand that not everyone has the mentorship that maybe some of us have had in our lives,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. “I think the impact of this, it’s not in the thousands, it’s not in the tens of thousands, I would say it’s probably in the millions if not in the tens of millions since it started.”
Monday’s headliners included the organization’s national spokesperson, actor Omari Hardwick; rapper Rick Ross; and former Broward County public defender and inaugural 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project member Howard Finkelstein.
The event featured performances by singer Rochelle Lightfoot, video clips chronicling the history of Wilson’s program, award presentations to leaders making a difference and remarks from headliners. Among the dignitaries in attendance were Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade Board of County Commission Chair Oliver Gilbert III and Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres.
“It means so much for me to be here,” said Ross, an acclaimed rapper who grew up in Carol City. “There’s not a name that meant more to the youngsters growing up in Carol City, Opa-locka, Liberty City, than Ms. Frederica Wilson. Everywhere we went, we saw her name. Before I knew her face, before I knew she was so amazing, I knew her name.”
He went on to encourage the young men present at the breakfast to embrace networking and be open to opportunities outside of their city and state, so long as they return to give back.
“Ain’t nothing wrong with wanting to be successful, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be wealthy,” he said. “It’s just the way you go about it … Wherever you gotta go to make it happen, to win, you go there, but make sure you always come back home to spread the love.”
Hardwick, who asked the young men beforehand to submit topics they’d like to hear him discuss at the event, challenged the young men to be fearless and unapologetic.
“No one respects anyone who walks in the room afraid,” he told them. “How quickly does a dog bite someone fearful? Fast … Let your actions, your work ethics, your values, do the talking.”
President Joe Biden also shared encouraging words via a prerecorded video message.
“The coronavirus pandemic may have interrupted the end of the school year and forced you to miss out on creating some really great memories that you’ve earned, but it hasn’t interrupted your extraordinary achievement, and it can’t slow you down now. Nothing can,” he said. “You’ve already proven you got what it takes to succeed … Your path is just beginning.”
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