Celebrating Untold Stories

Winners Announced for Breakthrough Miami’s 5th Annual Black History Month Essay Contest in Honor of Garth C. Reeves, Sr.

In Honor of Garth C. Reeves Sr. and Dedicated to Regina Jolivette Frazier

The spirit of education equity and empowerment filled the air as Breakthrough Miami proudly announced the winners of its 5th Annual Garth C. Reeves Essay Contest. This yearly initiative pays homage to the legacy of Garth C. Reeves, Sr., founder of The Miami Times, and his dedication to amplifying the voices of African Americans through the power of the media.

Each year, Breakthrough Scholars from elementary, middle, and high schools delve into the rich stories of African Americans who have played a pivotal role in shaping the State of Florida.  This year’s theme, “Celebrating Untold Stories and Contributions of African Americans in South Florida,” was particularly poignant as Scholars were encouraged to explore the lesser-known histories of influential figures in the region, whose impact on their communities had often been overlooked.

The Untold Stories Unveiled

The resulting essays from this year’s prompt reflected themes of perseverance, hard work, everyday heroism and justice—core values that align with Breakthrough Miami’s ethos of grit, equity and self-actualization. 

Elementary School Winners:

  • 1st Place: Carrie Meek by JenElle Cotman
  • 2nd Place: Eula Johnson by Hachikaru Adele
  • 3rd Place: Karen Brown by Sofia Villagomez

Middle School Winners:

  • 1st Place: Eula Johnson by Bagaya Samuel
  • 2nd Place: James Weldon Johnson by Izaiah Afflick
  • 3rd Place: Dr. Cheryl Holder by Tanto Toyosi

High School Winners:

  • 1st Place: Karega Tucker by Chesley Gachette
  • 2nd Place: Frances S. Tucker by Jonathan Walker
  • 3rd Place: William Oliver Wells by Santino Sileo

Congratulations to all the winners, whose compelling essays thoughtfully brought to light the untold stories of historical, present and everyday leaders who have left an indelible mark on South Florida.

The announcement ceremony held on February 21, 2024 featured a gallery showcase of submitted essays, a ceremonious announcement of the winners, and a presentation of awards. Complementing Breakthrough Miami’s students-teaching-students model, 2023 Essay Contest awardees took the stage to announce the 2024 winners. Carlos Diaz-Granados, Territory General Manager at Coke Florida, and Diana Arteaga, Manager, Public Affairs & Community Relations, joined the student presenters, along with Breakthrough Miami CEO Lori-Ann Cox, and Director of Student Achievement Webber J. Charles in celebrating the achievements of the talented scholars.

Breakthrough Miami extends its gratitude to Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, LLC (Coke Florida), the local independent Coca-Cola bottler and the largest Black-owned company in Florida. Their generous donation of laptops to the first, second, and third place winners in each category underscored their commitment to education and empowerment.

“Coke Florida is proud of its continued partnership with Breakthrough Miami, which includes our annual laptop donation in support of the Garth C. Reeves Black History Month Essay Contest,” said Carlos Diaz Granados, Territory General Manager, Miami-Dade and the Keys at Coke Florida. “I look forward to serving as a judge every year and learning from the engaging essays submitted by students. Coke Florida remains committed to empowering young people in the communities we serve to reach their full potential by providing resources they need to be successful.”

A Heartfelt Tribute to Regina Jolivette Frazier

Notably, Breakthrough Miami dedicated this year’s announcement ceremony to Regina Jolivette Frazier, who passed away on February 15, 2024. A longstanding officer on Breakthrough Miami’s Board of Directors, Regina’s passion for education, commitment to equity, and leadership within the Breakthrough Miami Village have left an enduring impact on the organization and our community. 

Lori-Ann M. Cox, Chief Executive Officer of Breakthrough Miami, shared her reflections, “As we applaud the accomplishments of our Scholars and pay homage to the enduring legacy of Garth C. Reeves Sr., we are also profoundly influenced by his niece Regina’s unwavering conviction in the significance of our youth learning and drawing inspiration from the stories of others whose acts of courage and persistence have made a mark on our community.”

Emphasizing the commitment to both honoring the past and shaping the future, she continued, “Breakthrough Miami is dedicated to paving the way for a future where every student’s voice is heard, and every story is not just acknowledged but celebrated. We encourage all of our scholars to capture the stories of everyday heroes around them and to write their own stories! 

We are pleased to announce the winners in each category.

Elementary School Winners:

1st Place: JenElle Cotman, 5th grade, Downtown Miami Charter School, The PEAK of Carrie Meek

1st Place: JenElle Cotman, 5th grade, Downtown Miami Charter School, The PEAK of Carrie Meek

The PEAK of Carrie Meek  

As the granddaughter of Haitian immigrants, I would often hear my grandparents mention the  name Carrie Meek. My grandpa would smile from ear to ear telling me stories about how Carrie Meek  was the voice for the Haitian people. Grandpa explained to me how she fought hard for his freedom in  America. My grandmother would make sure she points out the beautiful painting of Ms. Meek, every 

time we pass by the grocery store on 7th Avenue. 

Born April 29, 1926. Carrie Meek was the daughter of sharecroppers and granddaughter of  slaves. During her grade school years, very few black children had the chance to make it to high school.  However, Ms. Meek overcame obstacles and graduated from Lincoln High school, and then attended and graduated from Florida A&M University. During this time blacks could not go to graduate schools in  Florida. Ms. Meek beat the odds and enrolled in the University of Michigan and received her Master of  Science degree in 1948. After earning her degree Ms. Meek became a teacher at Bethune Cookman College and Florida A&M University. 

In 1961 Ms. Meek moved to Miami for a job at Miami Dade Community College. After the death  of state representative Gwen Cherry, a Miami native, Ms. Meek decided to enter politics to carry on the  works of Ms. Cherry. In 1982 Ms. Meek became the first black woman to win the Florida state senate.  While in office, she helped with building affordable homes for minorities. With the help of the federal  government, one of Ms. Meeks greatest accomplishments was helping rebuild Miam-Dade County, after the devasting aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Other accomplishments include the Carrie Meek K-8  center, Miami-Dade water quality improvement, helped with the programs such as health care,  education, family and childcare centers. Ms. Meek secured millions of dollars to help with construction  zones in lower-income neighborhoods and more programs to help the development of beautiful city of  Miami Dade.  

As previously mentioned, my grandparents are Haitian Immigrants. Miami is a melting pot of different cultures such as Haitians, Cubans, Bahamians, Puerto Ricans and many more cultures. Carrie Meek believed that everyone should have equal rights. My grandparents would tell me stories about the many protests that they attended, and Ms. Meek would always be there front and center to support the Haitian community. Ms. Meek became a trailblazer. She introduced the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness act of 1997(HRIFA). This act allowed Haitians who lived in the United States to become permanent residents. The (HRIFA) Act not only helped people like my grandparents but, the ACT also helped other immigrants as well. 

During her later years, Ms. Meek retired in 2002 and her son Kendrick Meek was proud to follow his mother footsteps and held the House seat for four terms. Although Ms. Meek was no longer in office,  she continued to help the community. The Carrie Meek Foundation was established in 2001. This  Foundation helps families with resources like education, healthcare, and housing. Unfortunately, Ms.  Meek became ill, and passed away Nov 28,2021. The strength and courage of Ms. Meek’s bravery,  sacrifices and courage has allowed myself, my family, and the Miami-Dade County residents to continue  the great legacy of Ms. Carrie Meek. It’s because of Ms. Meek’s hard work for the city of Miami, that I

am to have the endless opportunities to be a part of great enrichment programs like  BREATHROUGH MIAMI “The Peak of Meek”. 

2nd Place: Hachikaru Adele, 5th grade, Air Base K-8 For International Education, Eula Johnson

2nd Place: Hachikaru Adele, 5th grade, Air Base K-8 For International Education, Eula Johnson

The Untold Story and Contributions of Eula Johnson in South Florida

Untold stories teach us about people who have done important things that we do not know about. They teach about events that affect our lives. Many individuals are just living their lives not realizing that they are making an impact on others in the community at large. Celebrating untold stories highlights that. This essay is about the American activist Eula  Johnson. 

I couldn’t find anything about Eula Johnson’s childhood, but my readings show that she was a very important civil rights activist in South Florida and the first female president of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from (1959– 1967). It also shows that one of Eula Johnson’s most important moment was when she protested on the beach that was only for white people. 

When Eula Johnson arrived in Fort Lauderdale in 1935, she decided that the Jim Crow laws in place needed to end and became a powerful voice for the cause. In 1959, she became the first woman president of the Fort Lauderdale NAACP. In her role as president, she filed several lawsuits against public schools to get equality for black students, as well as fought against separation in public spaces like drive-in theaters. Part of her activism work resulted in the end of segregation at Broward County beaches. Johnson, along with Dr. Von D. Mizell and several NAACP members, organized “wade-ins” at the white-only beaches in 1961. The city of Fort Lauderdale sued Johnson for being a public nuisance.

Johnson, known by many as the Rosa Parks of Broward County made history on July 4, 1961, when she, Dr. Von Mizell and a group of black students from Dillard High School, became the first blacks to wade into the segregated waters of Fort Lauderdale Beach. After a judge refused the city’s request to stop the wade-ins, Broward County beaches became desegregated in 1962.

“Freedom is written in the hearts of black people,” Johnson said in a 1992 interview with  The Miami Herald. “I had courage. But let us say this: When you are right and believe you are  right, God gives you courage.” Johnson died in January 2001 at age 94. 

Eula Johnson got a lot of awards for her work. In 2001, Fort Lauderdale renamed  Northwest 23rd Avenue between Northwest 19th Street and Sunrise Boulevard as Eula Johnson  Avenue. In 2011, the historic house where she lived was renovated and dedicated as the Fort Lauderdale/Broward Branch NAACP headquarters and a museum honoring her work. A  historical marker was placed at A1A and Las Olas Boulevard, the location where Johnson and  Mizell first led a small team of protestors onto white-only beaches. Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Hollywood, Florida is named after her and fellow civil rights activist Dr. von Mizell. 

Eula Johnson is important to South Florida and beyond because there is no segregation in the community. When I look around in my classroom, there are many different races learning,  playing, and getting along. When I go to the beach or restaurants with my family, segregation does not cross my mind. I am grateful for the impact Eula Johson had on my society. Reading about Johnson made me remember the action I took when I found out that my homeroom teacher was being moved to the upper academy and I thought it was unfair because I really liked her, and she is a great teacher. I organized a petition in my lunchtime the next day. With permission from my teacher, I went to classmates in the whole of fifth grade and fourth grade during their lunch to get support. I got about 230 signatures.  

Knowing how brave Johnson was makes me feel that I and others could do more. I think this is still an untold story because not a lot of people know about her in South Florida, her story has not been told or taught in school. With what I have learned, I will share about  Johnson this Black History Month. I will speak up more when I see unfair behaviors by classmates and others. 

3rd Place: Sofia Villagomez, 5th grade, William Lehman Elementary School, Ms. Karen Brown

3rd Place: Sofia Villagomez, 5th grade, William Lehman Elementary School, Ms. Karen Brown

Ms. Karen Brown

African American people had to go through a lot of hardship and unfairness to change the laws and get the rights that they deserved. Many of these people have been injured throughout the process of fighting for Civil Rights. After many years of dedication and perseverance, the unjust laws were changed for the better. Even though this act happened many years ago, people all around the world, including darked skinned people are still making an amazing impact in our community. In this essay we are going to talk about darked skinned people that are still helping change the world in their own ways.

Mrs. Karen Brown-

Mrs. Karen Brown is a dark-skinned third-grade teacher. She was born in Jacksonville, Florida; and came to Miami at the age of five. Mrs. Brown had a sister and brother, but she was the oldest. She grew up to study in a nursing school, but then realized that she wanted to take a turn and become a teacher, because of her love for kids and teaching them. Mrs. Brown then went to Florida’s International University (FIU), and became what she dreamed of being, a teacher, and since then she has been working here, at William Lehman Elementary School for 25 years. She then became a mom and had two children, Maya, and Miles. She was the first person in her family to become a teacher, and then her sister took the same approach. Mrs. Brown is a third-grade math, science, and social studies teacher. She has made such a giant impact in our school, and in return for all her hard work and efforts, she was nominated teacher of the year for 2023-2024 by William Lehman, winning the Golden Apple Award, and getting a recognition ceremony. Mrs. Brown has told me that because of her love for children, she has succeeded and moved on.

I strongly believe that Mrs. Brown is an amazing teacher and always will be. She is a fantastic person that helps children have a better future, because of her excellent education. She has always been a dedicated, and hard-working person. She loves children and enjoys teaching them. For example, when covid-19 started, she didn’t stop teaching, and even started having online classes because she was sure that no matter what is going on, we should still have a proper education. Thanks to her teaching, she has planted a seed of knowledge in kids, which will soon flourish and will make a difference in society, and just like a flower, they will spread and share it with other people. If more people in our Nation, are like her, and dedicate to teach like Mrs. Brown, with all their heart, they might also make a change and help children become, responsible, kind, and smarter than what they already are. Just like Mary McLeod Bethune, Mrs. 

Karen Brown is a passionate teacher that is willing to change and make children’s future better, and can sacrifice her time, to help change kids’ life. 

A New Story Awaits-

A giant amount of African American people has been recognized for fighting in the Civil Rights Movement, like Patricia Stephens Due, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Rosa Parks, but there are some people in our community that are making an impact on the world, and we don’t even know about them. For example, Mrs. Brown is one of them, but there are so many more, like police officers, fire fighters, teachers, doctors, and more. These people are changing lives, in one way or another, not to be recognized, but to make a better life for us. I believe they deserve the chance to be known and recognized because of their hardship to change our nation. No one tells them to make a change, nobody congratulates them for their work, so why do they do this? The answer is simple. They are new heroes and will always be, and even if you don’t know that person, tell them “Thank you for everything you have done.” 


Mrs. Brown has proofed that no matter the color of your skin, you can always be someone that stands out and makes the world better. I believe that she is an astonishing person. She has shown that she made an improvement in our lives for good and will continue doing it. Mrs. Brown is always going to be a person that demonstrates how you can be anything that you want, because what matters is your inside color, where people may see the true you, not the outside, where people might judge you because of the way you look.

Middle School Winners:

1st Place: Bagaya Samuel, 7th grade, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, American Activist: Eula Johnson

1st Place: Bagaya Samuel, 7th grade, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, American Activist: Eula Johnson

“A Pioneer in the Pursuit of Educational Equality in South Florida”

“I had courage. But let’s say this: When you are right and believe you are right, God gives you courage.” – Eula Johnson

Eula Johnson’s life is a story of not giving up, of facing tough times with determination and fighting for what’s right. Born in the year of 1906, in Lake Placid, Florida, she grew up in a world where being African American meant facing unfair treatment and limited opportunities. But Eula didn’t let that hold her back.

From a young age, she fought for her education, driven by the challenges she faced. In the 1950s and 1960s, during the civil rights movement, Eula became a standout figure in South Florida. In 1959, she made history as the first female president of the Fort Lauderdale NAACP,fighting for the rights of African Americans for over 20 years and making a lasting impact on ending racial segregation in schools.

One significant moment was in 1959 when Eula led a case called Holmes v. Dade County School Board. The goal was to change the way public schools separated black and white students in Dade County. Eula argued that having different schools for black and white students wasn’t fair, echoing the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision. Despite facing tough opposition, Eula and her team didn’t give up. In 1960, they won a major victory, leading to the integration of public schools in Dade County. This achievement was a turning point in the broader civil rightsmovement, showing that positive change was possible across the nation. Eula’s impact went beyond the courtroom. She made sure African American students had the same opportunities as white students, inspiring many to stand up for fairness in South Florida and beyond.

As we celebrate the stories of African Americans in South Florida, let’s ensure Eula Johnson’s story is widely known. It’s not just history; it’s an enduring inspiration for those working towards a fair and equal community. Eula Johnson’s spirit, always pushing for an inclusive society,continues to influence and motivate others.

Moving to July 4, 1961, Eula, along with Dr. Von D. Mizell and others, led wade-ins on Fort Lauderdale’s segregated beaches. During this time, African Americans had limited access to Florida’s coastline. The first wade-in at Las Olas Beach faced initial resistance, but the activistswere eventually left alone. Throughout July and August, more wade-ins took place, involving around 200 participants. Unhappy with these events, the city sued Johnson and the local NAACP on August 12th, claiming they were causing trouble. The case reached a federal judge in 1962,who ruled against the city on July 11, leading to the desegregation of Broward County beaches and setting the stage for desegregation in other public places.

Similar events unfolded across Florida in the 1950s, where African Americans were limited to a small portion of the state’s beaches. Notably, in 1955, in Sarasota, NAACP leader Neil Humphrey Sr. led wade-ins at Lido Beach, gaining national attention and contributing to themomentum for civil rights activism nationwide.

The fight for equal beaches in Fort Lauderdale began in 1946, with the Negro Professional and Business Men’s League requesting a beach for Black residents. Despite efforts, the issue remained unresolved, worsening in 1953 when the only colored beach was purchased by a developer. This led to the Wade-ins in 1961. During the wade-ins, white bystanders posed threats, and the police warned of potential arrests. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) even planned an attack on July 23, but Eula’s vigilance, alerting the FBI, prevented violence. The city filed a suit against the Wade-ins, but the NAACP sent lawyers, and the county judge allowed them to continue. In July 1962, the federal judge ruled in favor of the activists.

Despite this victory, full desegregation of Florida’s beaches and pools didn’t occur until 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. In 1973, the state established the Dr. Von D. Mizzell-Eula Johnson State Park, honoring their efforts. Eula Johnson, often considered the “Rosa Parks of FortLauderdale,” played a crucial role in the fight for equal rights, becoming the first female president of the NAACP Fort Lauderdale Branch.

As we honor the stories of African Americans in South Florida, let’s make sure Eula Johnson’s story is known far and wide. It’s not just history – it’s a lasting inspiration for everyone who wants to make their community fair and equal.

Let us forever cherish the spirit of Eula Johnson, a guiding force tirelessly working for a society that embraces all. Eula Johnson’s commitment and dedication will persist, inspiring others and rekindling the aspirations of countless young minds.

2nd Place: Tantoluwa Toyosi, 6th grade, AirBase K-8 Center for International Education, Dr. Cheryl Holder

2nd Place: Tantoluwa Toyosi, 6th grade, AirBase K-8 Center for International Education, Dr. Cheryl Holder

“Celebrating Untold Stories and Contributions of African Americans in South Florida”

I had the opportunity to research and learn more about Dr. Cheryl Holder. Dr Holder arrived from Kingston, Jamaica in summer of 1968. She goes on to tell the story of her family being crammed into a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York. In her recent Ted talk, she mentions that the block where she lived had all shades of children. Some spoke Spanish and others spoke English. Cheryl was not allowed to play with the other children on her street because, and I quote Dr Holder, “As my parents said, them too rambunctious”. So, she could only watch them from her bedroom window. 

Dr Cheryl Holder was born on Nov 26, 1950, she is an Internal Medicine Physician and currently lives in South Florida. She chose this line of medicine because some people sometimes called the underserved or the vulnerable the ones who are not really cared about. When Dr Holder was in medical training school in Harlem, she mentioned seeing an increase in men with HIV, she then moved to Miami only to find out that, the disease also included women and children. The HIV disease in a few years spread to become an epidemic.  Dr Holder, alongside many great people in medicine and law advocacy in the South Florida area and out of State moved into action. With the help of these people, activists, advocates, educators and physicians they found a way forward. There was a massive learning effort to reduce HIV transmission and to provide legal protection for those with the disease and they made sure that as many people as possible in South Florida, regardless of work conditions, would have access to the medication and within a few years there were new treatments in the market.

In continuation of Dr Holder’s childhood stories. Roller-skating was one of the block children’s favorite activities. Children would hitch a ride at the tail end of a school bus and letting go of the bus when it made a turn. There was a new girl in the bunch one day; and same as always, the skating children would hitch a ride at the end of the school bus down the hill. The new girl was not used to the pattern of the skating wheels and she missed a step and fell on the hard paved road. The bus stopped and there were by-standers who came to the little girl’s rescue. The Police came but there were no ambulances that came. I believe this was the moment that Dr Holder decides to become a doctor.

As a South Floridian, Dr Holder was aware that there is a growing gap between the poor and the rich. In addition, South Florida temperatures continue to rise as a result of global warming. As the climate warms, there are more disease carrying mosquitoes, more allergies which threaten the young and old alike who are already sick. This is unfair, but Dr Holder has helped to close the gap in South Florida by seeing more of those patients who can’t afford the high medical bills. She has also given presentations and educated people on the effects of climate change on the South Floridian and how it impacts us. 

Dr Cheryl Holder continues to make an impact in our community as a medical doctor who cares about the poor and less privileged.  But this is more than being a doctor; the young Cheryl had a dream that would help thousands of people improve their lives in a big way and she has worked very hard to continue to accomplish it.

3rd Place: Izaiah Afflick, 7th grade, Ransom Everglades School, James Weldon Johnson

3rd Place: Izaiah Afflick, 7th grade, Ransom Everglades School, James Weldon Johnson

Florida’s Pioneer of Civil Rights: The Legacy of James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson was a remarkable individual who wore many hats throughout his life. He was a soldier, a teacher, a writer, and most importantly, an activist for civil rights. His dedication to the cause of civil rights was unwavering, and he played a significant role in bringing about positive change in Florida and beyond.

Johnson, a Jacksonville, Florida native, was born to James Johnson, head waiter at the St. James Hotel, and Helen Louise Dillet. Initially instructed by their mother, who was a musician and public school teacher, Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later attended the Edwin Stanton School. After completing some graduate coursework, they joined the Great Migration, a large movement of African Americans to New York and other northern cities in the early 20th century. In 1910, Johnson wed Grace Nail in New York, his lifelong partner until tragedy struck. Unfortunately, James perished in a train accident, leaving his wife to survive, thus marking the end of his story.

First of all, he inspired principals to add two grades to segregated schools in Florida. Through his efforts, he made significant strides in improving black education by implementing the important change that was adding the ninth and tenth grades to the school curriculum in segregated schools. This expansion effectively prolonged the years of schooling available to students, providing them with greater opportunities for academic advancement and personal growth. His dedication to enhancing educational opportunities for black students reflected a commitment to breaking down barriers and promoting equality in access to education. 

He also helped advocate many anti-lynching bills. Lynching is when a mob kills someone for an alleged offense without a legal trial. Without these sorts of bills, lynching could happen without consequence for anyone in the mob. Johnson was deeply committed to civil rights activism, particularly in advocating for the passage of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, given the failure of Southern states to hold perpetrators accountable. His involvement included speaking at the 1919 National Conference on Lynching and serving as a field secretary for the NAACP. Over time, Johnson emerged as one of the organization’s most prominent and successful officials. His dedication to justice took him to places like Memphis, Tennessee, where he investigated a particularly brutal lynching witnessed by thousands, highlighting the urgent need for reform and accountability in the face of racial violence.

Last, but definitely not least, in 1900, James Weldon Johnson penned the poem that would become known as the “Negro National Anthem,” titled “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” This hymn, originally crafted as a poem, holds profound significance in African American culture and history. James’s words captured the struggles, aspirations, and resilience of Black Americans, resonating deeply with generations. After working with his brother to fully produce it, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), adopted the song as the Black National Anthem. Today,  James’s creation continues to be celebrated and revered, enduring as a timeless anthem of hope and pride for the Black community.

In essence, James Weldon Johnson’s legacy epitomizes a tireless pursuit of justice and equality in the face of adversity. As a soldier, teacher, writer, and civil rights activist, he left an indelible mark on black history through his unwavering dedication to advancing the cause of civil rights. From pioneering educational reforms to tirelessly advocating for anti-lynching legislation and crafting the iconic hymn “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” Johnson’s contributions reverberate through generations, inspiring hope, pride, and resilience within the African American community and beyond. His enduring legacy serves as a testament to the transformative power of activism and the enduring pursuit of equality for all.

High School Winners: 

1st Place: Chesley Gachette , 12th grade, Monsignor Edward Pace High School; Legend: Karega Tucker

1st Place: Chesley Gachette , 12th grade, Monsignor Edward Pace High School; Legend: Karega Tucker

Karega Tucker: The Power of Resilience

Following her arrest, civil rights activist Rosa Parks expressed, “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” Karega Tucker embodies everything this quote stands for. He is bold, resilient, and passionate. 

Karega’s story is not one of privilege or easy beginnings. Raised in the heart of South Florida, an area where opportunities can be scarce and obstacles plentiful, he faced challenges that could have easily deterred him. Yet, from a young age, Karega found solace in his love for basketball. It was here he discovered his calling. The sport became a passion and an outlet. However, in high school, he did not play a minute as a freshman on JV, missed the majority of his sophomore season, and spent his final two seasons playing out of position. Nonetheless, Karega did not allow his trials to serve as an excuse. His senior year accolades include an all-county team recognition, player of the week, and tournament all-star. Karega Tucker did not and continues to never settle for less. 

Following his graduation from Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School in 2002, Karega explored Tallahassee Community College and Allen University, South Carolina, as a means of continuing his basketball career. Unfortunately, these attempts were not successful. Living a life where adversity seemed to be the prevailing theme, Karega refused to let his circumstances define his life. After a year at each institution, Karega found his college home, right back in his South Florida community, at Barry University. As an immediate key player and future All-Conference player, Kargea’s final years at Barry are a testimony to his resilience and capabilities. 

As he honed his skills on the court, Karega’s vision extended beyond his glory. Following his education, Karega has held a variety of coaching and athletic director positions. However, his most impactful contribution lies in his organization, KT School of Basketball (KTSOB). In simple terms, KTSOB is a youth basketball academy. Yet, it is far more. For athletes who have experienced selfish coaching and poor team environments, KTSOB is a sanctuary where they can grow in the sport they admire. 

Allow me to bear witness, Karega is truly exceptional. I have known him for over six years, and even as an 11-year-old student in his physical education class, he treated me with respect and spoke to me as an intellectual. This alone speaks volumes on how Karega views others; he not once diluted his speech to match the supposed novice that accompanies our young adulthood. For me, this experience allowed me to grow and expand my perspectives. I stopped seeing things in black and white and began to look for the gray areas. Furthermore, Karega is among the best coaches I have encountered. 

Utilizing the transformative power of basketball, Karega Tucker is on a mission to uplift his community, one athlete at a time. He provides opportunities for athletes regardless of their situation. As long as an individual is willing to train hard, Karega will help handle the rest. Furthermore, his impact on his athletes is distinct. He is not a coach who is working for a paycheck. It is evident in his actions that Karega’s passion lies within the growth of South Florida’s youth. Through countless hours of coaching, mentoring, and nurturing, Karega has become more than just a coach; he is a mentor, a taxi driver, a big brother, a provider, and a guiding light for those around him. 

Founded from the heart and soul, KTSOB is a haven for aspiring athletes to cultivate their talents and chase their dreams. In the 15 years KTSOB has been running, Karega has helped athletes reach professional aspirations, go to college, and graduate college. However, what Karega values most is his athletes’ growth as human beings. He has nurtured the talents of young girls and boys, instilling in them the values of discipline, grit, and self-belief. As his program has flourished, so too has the surrounding South Florida community. At the moment, KTSOB is sponsoring jerseys for the Miami Jackson Boy’s Basketball team. The success of the program thus far serves as a testament to young African-American boys and girls that they truly can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. 

Despite the obstacles encountered along the way, Karega Tucker never wavered in his commitment to his goals. Through grit and unwavering passion, Karega built his vision into a reality. From KT School of Basketball to his early career to simply his day-to-day interactions, Karega leaves a positive mark on his South Florida community. As we celebrate Black History Month, Karega Tucker’s story stands as a reminder of the countless unsung heroes whose contributions have shaped our society. He is an inspiration, a testament to the boundless potential that lies within every one of us. As I reflect on his journey, I draw strength from his example, remembering that with perseverance, passion, and belief in oneself, anything is possible. As civil rights activist Rosa Parks has encouraged, Kargea Tucker lives his life as a model for others.

2nd Place: Jonathan Walker, 9th grade, BreakthroughU Site, Frances S. Tucker

2nd Place: Jonathan Walker, 9th grade, BreakthroughU Site, Frances S. Tucker

Frances S. Tucker Essay 

Frances S. Tucker was an extraordinary person. She was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on November 6, 1900. She had two brothers named William and Frank, and a sister named Ella Hines. Frances was really passionate about education and helping her community. Even though she had to overcome many obstacles and face discrimination, her influence on education, especially in the southern United States, was really important. Her amazing work still motivates teachers and students today. 

Tucker’s early life was filled with a strong desire for knowledge and a determination to succeed. She was born in the early 20th century, a time when opportunities for women, especially women of color, were limited. Despite facing these challenges, Tucker’s determination and love for learning drove her to pursue higher education. She attended public school in Springfield, Massachusetts, and later enrolled in Westfield Normal School in the same state. In 1921, she moved to Alabama and joined the faculty of Tuskegee Institute. This was a period of big changes and conflict in the United States, with racial segregation and discrimination deeply rooted in society. Frances taught English as a head teacher at Tuskegee and had the opportunity to work alongside George Washington Carver. It was in Alabama where she met and married her husband, Henry D. Tucker. In 1929, they relocated to Miami, where Frances became the principal of Miami Dade County, overseeing ten teachers. Over time, the school expanded and transformed into Coconut Grove Junior High School. In 1942, it was renamed George Washington Carver High School, becoming one of only three high schools for black students in Dade County. The other two schools were Booker T. Washington and Mays Senior High School. Presently, Carver High is known as Carver Middle School.

Frances was a determined individual who not only focused on her career but also pursued her college education. During the summer, she attended Hampton Institute in Virginia and successfully obtained her B.S. degree on May 29, 1939. Frances’s dedication to education didn’t stop there. In 1944, she furthered her studies and earned her masters degree. Her hard work and commitment were recognized when she was honored as the Outstanding Principal of the Year by the Florida State Teachers Association for the 1949-1950 school year. Frances’s achievements continued to be acknowledged by various organizations. In 1954, the Miami Chapter of the Tuskegee Alumni Association awarded her a certificate of Merit and Achievement. Two years later, the Miami Dade County Teachers Association recognized her 25 years of service with a prestigious award. France’s involvement extended beyond her professional life. She actively participated in the community, serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the James E. Scott Community Association for many years. Additionally, she was a dedicated member of the Beta Zeta Sigma Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which was established in 1941. Frances’s commitment to her community was evident through her involvement in various committees, such as the Coral Gables Urban City Renewal Citizens Committee in 1959 and the Coral Gables bi-racial committee in 1960. She retired in June 1960 and the following year they built Frances S. Tucker Elementary School in the grove which was named in her honor. Frances S. Tucker died on March 4, 1965 in Miami, Florida. 

I wanted to write about Frances S. Tucker, my great-grandmother’s sister, because she inspires me so much. Her legacy lives on through all the lives she touched and the impact she made on education in America. Frances’ journey from Massachusetts to Alabama and then to Florida shows how strong and determined she was. She dedicated her life to making society better through education. Her story is a true inspiration, especially for those facing challenges and obstacles. Frances’ life and work remind us of how education can change lives and how important it is to keep working towards its progress.

3rd Place: Santino Sileo, 11th grade, TERRA Environmental, Willie Oliver Wells

3rd Place: Santino Sileo, 11th grade, TERRA Environmental, Willie Oliver Wells

Untold, Unwavering, & Unstoppable Selflessness

William “Willie” Oliver Wells was born to Lillie and Reverend Oliver Wells in 1931 and grew up in Miami, Florida during one of the nation’s toughest periods, the Second World War. However, because of such an upbringing, Wells grew to understand the importance of community. So much so, that after completing his education at Dillard High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Wells took up arms to protect the country and was stationed in Germany under the U.S. Army. After his service, Wells returned to education and obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Fisk University in 1955, and simultaneously was ordained by the American Baptist Theological Seminary. From then on, the late Reverend Doctor Willie Oliver Well would begin his mission to change South Florida for the better, by orchestrating a multitude of political and humanitarian efforts that brought massive change to daily life for locals.

To begin with, Rev. Wells was a key figure and contributor in South Florida’s civil rights movement, given his work through nonviolent means and protests. Wells even worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in organizing and strategizing youth protests in Florida. In an interview with Brevard Community College, Rev. Wells describes his time with him, “[Ralph Abernethy and Martin Luther King] were great men, right in the city, at the church. I had good people who believed in what I was trying to do and they were willing to work with me. Together, man, the Lord blessed us to do wonderful things during the civil rights struggle” (Wells). Although the Reverend is modest and accrediting his project’s success to the community, with members being figures like Martin Luther King, he was the one to spearhead a multitude of projects that combated severe issues of the time, like crime, abuse, poverty, and, most prevalently, racism. The projects only grew in popularity and support with the facilitation provided by the likes of Abernethy and King. With the proper support, Reverend Wells was able to reach out to thousands of people and families in the area and get help to those who needed it. Additionally, the Reverend wasn’t just a behind-the-desk-planner, he stood up and out for what he believed in. One of the Reverend’s lifelong friends, Jan Stone, recounts, “My husband and Pastor Wells worked together in the civil rights movement and were responsible for a lot of the sit-ins and walks that took place in the community. He was active in this community for so long” (Gallop 7). Reverend was down in the trenches, so to speak, alongside hundreds of others in their stand for their God-given rights. Moreover, he was part of the Freedom Riders, who rode into segregated states to challenge enforcement and conducted sit-ins in ‘whites-only’ stores to protest Jim Crow laws. Eventually, their efforts came to fruition in the fall of 1970, when Reverend Wells began to address the Humanitarian needs of the community after addressing their political needs.

Renewing the previous point, it was in the late 1960s that Reverend Wells began to address the humanitarian needs of his Floridian community. For example, Rev. Wells opened the “Community Action Agency”, which started day-care centers for low-income community areas, and “Project Uplift” which is a “fund for interest-free loans to the church’s members” (Henderson 10). The projects were inspired by the faithful values Reverend Wells lived and preached. They, in turn, gained extraordinary success in helping those in the community who needed financial assistance at no extra cost and lent a helpful hand to families by hosting a healthy environment for children to grow up in. On a similar note, Reverend Wells put community and church resources to work when he “constructed two low-income apartment complexes” in Melbourne and Merritt Island, and opened a 1.2 million dollar church complex (flcivilrightshalloffame.org 1). The Reverend, evidently, valued community and understood the importance of the environment on one’s future. Therefore, he put millions of dollars into the community to safeguard its future generations, which in turn, helped countless people all over South Florida find homes, both figuratively and literally, by having the fundamental needs taken care of alongside the other projects he jump-started.

Although the Reverend may not have been as widely known as other civil rights activists at the time, his contributions were undeniably tremendous in terms of civil rights and humanitarian aid; his efforts, in the form of his legacy, leave a lasting effect not just on the local communities of South Florida, but on the nation, and rightly deserves to be celebrated this Black History Month. 

The essay contest was established to honor Dr. Reeves, publisher emeritus of The Miami Times, who passed away at 100 in late 2019. As the only job he had, aside from serving in the Army during World War II, Reeves’ energy in running the landmark black-owned paper would impact the lives of countless families in South Florida. He’d found his life’s calling — to serve as a voice for the black community. He knew no better job. Reeves, who oversaw the black-owned paper his father initially printed one page at a time on a small hand press in a modest Miami home upon its founding in 1923, and who kept it in the family as it evolved into its digital edition today, died two months after his daughter, Rachel, passed. She was the publisher of The Miami Times, assuming the mantle of leadership from her father and grandfather. (Miami Herald, November 2019) Breakthrough Miami is proud to have Regina Jolivette-Frazier, Reeves’ niece, as a long-standing member of the executive committee of our Board of Directors.

Garth C. Reeves, Sr. is a tall tree in the forest in which his community sought salvage from the elements. His work in the publishing world and, ultimately his founding of the Miami Times, gave voice to countless stories otherwise untold. What’s reflected in the sentiments of our Scholars in their essay entries is a resonating theme of courage, perseverance, and justice, similar themes found in the ethos of Breakthrough Miami programming.

View memories of our contest award ceremony:
2024 Garth C. Reeves Sr Ceremony

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