MIAMI – It was a Monday morning full of pride and gratitude at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Miami Airport & Convention Center where dozens of vulnerable teenagers with big dreams secured their ticket to college.
Miami Northwestern Senior High School student Elijah Thomas, an aspiring actor, is among the 42 high school seniors who benefited from the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Foundation scholarships.
“I’m just blessed ... I’m thinking about FIU, UCF, AMU, anything that has the best theater program," Thomas said.
Since U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson founded the program in 1993 the organization has paired about 10,000 at-risk students with mentors to steer them away from crime and violence. The organization was holding the 27th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship breakfast. Wilson’s son Paul Wilson is also involved.
“There has been a systematic attack on young minority males,” Paul Wilson said. "And for anyone who doubts that the school-to-prison pipeline is real, all you have to do is take a look at the mass incarceration numbers.
Thomas said meeting his mentor every week hasn’t only kept him out of trouble by helping to fill a paternal void. It has also opened doors to opportunities.
“My mom first put me in the program in the 8th grade because she raised me as a single mother, so I didn’t really have a father figure in my life,” Thomas said, adding that the program has also given him opportunities such as a trip to Washington, D.C. “That was my first time being out-of-state."
Thomas’ idol, actor Larenz Tate, made a special appearance at the ceremony and took an oath to be a mentor himself.
“Coming from a background where you don’t really have much, it’s just inspirational to me,” Thomas said.
An important part of the program is the promise mentees make to one day come back and mentor the next generation of at-risk youth so the cycle of empowerment continues.
Miami’s MLK Day parade