When most Americans think of the accomplishments of Black Americans in the United States, one individual instinctively comes to mind – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You won’t find a corner of the United States that doesn’t recognize just how impactful Dr. King’s work was, and still is, to life in America.
His legacy as a fighter for equality and a bridge builder is honored all over the world. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. truly believed in empowering people, bridging barriers, and creating solutions to social problems with hopes of moving society closer to his vision of all people having equality and access to opportunity.
The Johnson Scholars Program of the School District of Palm Beach County, in collaboration with Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County (JTSP), prides itself on empowering individuals, removing barriers and creating solutions to a very serious social problem – getting our first-generation and low-income students into and successfully finishing a post-secondary institution.
JTSP aims to make students college-ready by equipping them with life skills, by providing health and wellness awareness, and by guiding them through the entire process of getting accepted into a post-secondary institution. JTSP students usually have their first contact with the college experience by going on one of our organized college tours. “[Helping first generation, low income students] is important to me, because as a first generation student myself, I want to give the same confidence and resources to our students that someone gave to me. I still remember the first time I went on a college tour to Florida A&M University; from that moment on I knew I was going to college,” says Wanda Thomas, guidance counselor and JSTP coordinator at Palm Beach Lakes High School.
Being a first-generation and low-income student comes with its share of obstacles – not just the obvious financial need, but also the lack of understanding about where to start and what to do to get to college. The JTSP staff, mentors, and coaches support students through this process. “Knowing how difficult it is for first generation students to go to college, mainly due to lack of support, inspires me to be that person who helps bridge that gap,” says Johnson Scholars AmeriCorps College Coach
JTSP helps actualize the dream of college to a very diverse group of students. Of the 451 students presently served by this collaboration of Johnson Scholars and Take Stock in Children, 48 percent identify as Non-Hispanic/Black/African American and 37 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino. It is immensely rewarding to see the joy of each student as they share with pride which college or university they’ve been accepted to.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will always be relevant, in that his drive to uplift American society lives on through millions of Americans each day. By creating educational opportunities for low-income and first-generation students, JSTP will continue striving to remove barriers and empower students as they achieve their post-secondary goals. “Our kids are resilient, smart and amazing,” says Sharmagne Solis, JSTP coordinator at Village Academy. “They simply need someone to invest in them and guide them, and they can truly meet their highest potential.”
Gbolade George was educated in the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, and he has worked in the district for 21 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral disorders in education from the University of South Florida. He is in his third year as resource teacher and mentor facilitator for the Johnson Scholars Program.