MIAMI - For the Miami Heat, giving out scholarships is a celebrated moment that feels much like a pep rally.
"Education is the No. 1 tenant for the Heat," said Michael McCullough, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Miami Heat. "Scholarships are a way of giving back to these students and fulfill their educational dreams."
For Justice Collier, receiving $5,000 from the Heat to help pay for her upcoming first year at the University of West Florida was recognition for a resilient and focused spirit, a story that started shortly after she was born.
"I am the first to go to college out of the immediate family," said Justice Collier. "My aunt and my grandmother have been taking care of me since I was one and a half, and my brother, Brandon, he was a newborn. We were removed from the parental care of my parents."
"I am just thrilled. Very excited and proud," said Justice Collier's aunt, Tonnette Collier.
"She is a great inspiration to all of us," said Ana Rivas Logan, assistant principal at Robert Morgan Educational Center.
"My mom and dad were drug addicts. They couldn't take care of us," said Justice Collier.
Justice Collier has a total of 12 siblings.
"Some from my dad, some from my mom," said Justice Collier. "There was this time I did talk to her and I had Christmas cards for every Christmas she missed, and I told her the next time I see her I would give her all of them and she said, 'OK.' You know, I have yet to give them to her, but I'm still collecting."
"We stepped up to the plate," said Tonnette Collier (pictured, right with Justice Collier). "We decided not to allow her and her brother be caught up in the system of foster care. We wanted to make sure she had a fair chance at life like many other children."
"Education was a huge message," said Justice Collier. "I was always 'forced to read' but then began loving it. There was a book, (I) will never forget it -- 'Coming home from Africa.' My aunt made me read that book a thousand times."
The persistence paid off, instilling a love of education.
"Without the love of public education in her, she would not be where she is today," said Logan (pictured, right with Justice Collier). "Public education is the great equalizer. You can be born into poverty, into incredible challenges. Public education will help you succeed in life."
Justice Collier will be graduating with honors from Robert Morgan Educational Center. She wants to be a marine biologist and from the sound of this exchange with Logan, it appears Justice has found her calling.
"I recently did a research project. If the ocean's pH keeps increasing, then there is a chance that coral reefs will be damaged and become extinct, and jellyfish will prevail and we don't need jellyfish," said Justice Collier.
"To all the little girls watching, dreams really do come true," said Logan (pictured, left with Justice Collier). "Justice could have laid down and become a victim of society and she didn't. She forged forward, she worked hard and today we are honoring her because she is a great inspiration."
"Thank you, Heat," Logan added. "Thank you for believing in Justice."
"Thank you for that $5,000 scholarship," said Justice Collier. "I don't have to worry about the first year. That is awesome! It is a burden lifted off and I thank you so very much."
"We lifted the burden from her, hopefully we are lifting the burden off other kids and giving them an opportunity to really live their dreams," said McCullough.
"I love every one of you. Thank you so much. The Miami Heat team, we are part of the family now," said Tonnette Collier.
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