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‘5000 Role Model’ students honored at South Florida ceremony


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Terrain Small, a Freedom Writer at Miami Norland Senior High School, left, gets praise for his performance of a spoken word poem he wrote called “Hoodlum’s Deception” during the scholarship ceremony for the Wilson Scholars of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Program on Sunday, June 5, 2022 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami.

askowronski@miamiherald.com

DeAnthony Solomon is one step closer to becoming an orthopedic surgeon as he graduates top five percent of his class at Miami Central Senior High School.

His plan? Go to college, become a doctor and help patients who suffer from diseases that affect their bones. The 18-year-old’s grandmother, who has been like a second mother to him, deals with unbearable knee pain that he said only an orthopedic medical professional can alleviate.

To get where he is now has required laser-like focus in academics — but that wasn’t always the case.

“I was hanging with the wrong crowd,” he said.

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DeAnthony Solomon, 18, senior at Miami Central Senior High School, gives the 5000 Role Models prayer during the scholarship ceremony for the Wilson Scholars of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Program on Sunday, June 5, 2022 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami. The program gives young Black men mentorship. Alie Skowronski askowronski@miamiherald.com

In middle school, he was invited to join the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, where male mentors provide boys with alternatives that could lead them away from a life of crime and violence. The project was founded in 1993 by U.S. Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, then a Miami-Dade County School Board member.

These days, Salomon is no longer hanging with the wrong crowd. He and over 100 young men from South Florida pledged Sunday afternoon at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to attend college or serve in the military after graduating high school.

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Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, founder of the program, center, speaks during the scholarship ceremony for the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Program on Sunday, June 5, 2022 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami. Wilson started the program in 1993. Alie Skowronski askowronski@miamiherald.com

By signing the pledge in front of their families and mentors, the 17 and 18-year-olds — wearing black suits, white shirts and bright red ties — promised to get a post-secondary education, the next step in their path toward a promising future.

Wilson said she was very proud of the teens but also fearful because they are being “released” to a world full of gun violence, crime and racism.

“But we have poured everything in them to make them good men in society,” she said. “They will always be a part of us and we will always be a part of them.”

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Some of the 42 young men receiving full rides to Tennessee State University stand during the scholarship ceremony for the Wilson Scholars of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Program on Sunday, June 5, 2022 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami. Alie Skowronski askowronski@miamiherald.com

Shalin Williams, 18, will major in mechanical engineering after graduating from Coral Reef Senior High School. Thanks to the mentorship program, they’ve fostered a brotherhood in which each member looks out for each other’s academic progress.

“Without the program, I would not be interested in engineering,” he added.

Williams, like Solomon and 40 others, received a full-ride scholarship at Tennessee State University. All graduates also got hooked up with free laptops donated by the Miami Dolphins football team.

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Jonathan Villalta, 18, senior at Southeast High School, center, walks into the scholarship ceremony with other Wilson Scholars of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Program on Sunday, June 5, 2022 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami. The program pairs young men with mentors and, at the end of the program, the young men receive full tuition scholarships to the university of their choosing. Some of the mentors were mentees in the past. Alie Skowronski askowronski@miamiherald.com

Jonathan Villalta will major in criminal justice at Miami Dade College thanks to the mentorship program. Without it, the 18-year-old noted, he wouldn’t be getting his high school diploma.

“This program showed me that when you put the effort a lot of good things can happen to you,” he said.





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