ONYX Magazine celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans and those of the African diaspora.
Celebrating 25 Years of Excellence
Founded in 1993, the project is a progressive education and mentoring program designed to nurture young Black males ages nine to 19.
Founded by Wilson and initiated by the Miami-Dade county school board, Wilson exhibited passionate concern for the aforementioned demographic who often end up imprisoned, fall prey to drug trade, or became school dropouts. In an effort to change the latter, the project was kick-started and excelled as the 500 African-American Male Role Models of Excellence. Following immeasurable success and national recognition, it was renamed the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project and expanded to include Hispanics.
“The success of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project has exceeded my wildest dreams. I never imagined we would be able to touch the lives of thousands of boys and young men on a daily basis,” said Wilson. “We have transformed lives of countless students and put them on track to graduate and lead successful lives. Our mentorship does not end at graduation. We have provided millions of dollars in scholarships, and send many graduates to the city of Miami Fire College so they can become firefighters. We are always marveling at the accomplishments of our students and attribute their success to God, because some of their stories are truly miracles,” she added.
Wilson’s collective “We,” includes a bevy of political, celebrity, sport and corporate supporters including President Barack Obama and four U.S. presidents who preceded him. Celebrities like Tom Joyner and Gladys Knight are on board along with retired NBA player Shaquille O’Neal. The mentor list is rounded off by the faith-based community, law enforcement, legal education professionals , and families.
“Sean John Collection, the retail arm of entertainment mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, has come on board as one of our recent corporate partners. They provide suits for graduating seniors so they will have proper attire for interviews, work, or formal occasions,” said Wilson.
“Many recipients have never owned a suit. I didn’t know much about Sean John before the, partnership, but they learned about our program and how we work to change the lives of boys and young men. I am humbled by the willingness of people who have supported the program since its inception,” Wilson added.
The project’s core model is to pair young males with professional, adult volunteers who provide advice, guidance, and educational assistance. According to Wilson, the focus has remained the same: “to intervene in lives of at-risk boys, and provide them with alternatives that deter from a life of crime and violence.” Every involved chapter and school has the same mission.
“We have been fortunate to grow in a way that maintains consistency. We have programs in Pinellas, Duval, and our newest chapter, Broward County,” said Wilson. “We invite school district leaders and community members from districts interested in starting a chapter. They visit schools to observe how the chapters operate…academically, we have a curriculum that reinforces reading and writing skill development,” Wilson boasts: “Students in our program perform at higher levels than their peers because of the extra help we provide.”
Dr. Valerie Brimm has served as the Pinellas County program director since 2009 and oversees the operation, facilitates district initiative, and maintains data.
“Several program graduates have gone to Duke, Dartmouth, Howard and more,” said Brimm who added that sports scholarships have also been obtained.
According to Brimm, 83% of her participating students who began in 3rd grade thru high school graduate on time. The Black male graduation rate has increased by 7% over the last three years and is attributed to the 5000 Role Model’s program. Brimm is proud of Pinellas County but states, “The Miami-Dade program is on a whole different level with regards to sponsorship, data sheets, and corporate involvement.”
Wilson looks forward to her program maintaining its vision, but states the reach of the program will exponentially grow.
“When people visit districts that have a program or work with our boys, they frequently ask how they can get a program where they live,” Wilson explained. “There are so many former teachers, principals, an administrators who have left Miami, but call back to see if we can establish a program in their new district…we are hoping to expand the program to Detroit in the near future and the council of the Great City Schools, an association of America’s largest urban school districts, is exploring ways to establish the program in districts nationwide,” Wilson added.
Congresswoman Wilson is a proven winner, and her former elementary school is now her honorable namesake. She cites her dad as her mentor:
“My father was a huge influence in my life. He was a small business owner and community leader,” shared Wilson. People frequented our home for advice, and as a little girl, I would hide under the dining room table and listen to conversations. My mother scolded me for eavesdropping, but that experience instilled within me a passion to help others,” she added.