“I always knew I wanted to do better for me, my family and my community — this is what drives me. It’s my purpose.”

– Amerie Jackson, Scholar Alumna, Class of 2022
Howard University, Biology, Class of 2026

Celebrating National First Gen Day

Today, we’re celebrating National First Gen Day and honoring the successes and achievements of our Scholars, alumni, and families who are defining new generational cycles of promise and prosperity. Breakthrough Miami supports hundreds of First Gen students to catch their dreams yearly. Scholars like Amerie Jackson.

Growing up in Opa Locka, Amerie Jackson gained a love for community and a guiding desire to give back. “I always knew I wanted to do better for me, my family and my community — this is what drives me. It’s my purpose.”

Raised primarily by her mother and her aunt, Amerie was empowered with family values and work ethic, helping to light her path to a bright future. 

“The adults in my life didn’t have the opportunity to take the route of going to college.”

After immigrating from Nicaragua her mother was able to pursue her high school diploma and then went on to earn certification as a VPK teacher. Her father, born and raised in Liberty City, eventually achieved his high school diploma. And Amerie’s aunt, who was a central figure in her development, was able to graduate from high school, albeit also delayed.

While her family may not have been able to pursue a college degree, education was a steady focus. Her mother and aunt consistently “emphasized the importance of school, doing my best, putting my best foot forward,” Amerie recalls, “Growing up with the lessons my family taught me I knew I always knew I had to do my best.”

As a fourth grader at Henry Mack Little River K-8 Center Amerie was introduced to Breakthrough Miami by her math teacher. She recalls being motivated by pictures of the pool and facilities at Miami Country Day School, where she would soon attend summer and Saturday programming as a Scholar.

“Even at that age I could grasp how much Breakthrough could have an impact on my life — I remember thinking about all the opportunities that could be opened up. Breakthrough came at a very vulnerable time in me and my mom’s life – trying to transition between places, moving around, trying to find our footing. I remember receiving the email and my mom and I started crying because we were facing so many challenges, food insecurities, financial challenges. Breakthrough offered the stability I needed in my life – I had my community; they were certain of me; they saw so much potential in me that I didn’t see that for myself. The flood of opportunities were limitless through Breakthrough and they made sure to tell us – you are going to do this!” 

Amerie grew with Breakthrough, as a Scholar, Volunteer, Teaching Fellow and then Academic Success Coach. Her younger sister is now on her own Breakthrough journey as an 8th grade Scholar at our Miami Country Day School site. A poignant example of the lasting commitment and enduring engagement among the Breakthrough Village, Amerie recalls the impact of Breakthrough U Site Director, Shanava Saintolien during her journey, which has inspired and led her into the sciences.

“Ms. Shanava was my 5th grade Teaching Fellow and then, when I returned to serve as a Teaching Fellow, she was my Instructional Coach in Science” and now, Amerie’s sister will go on to experience BreakthroughU under Shanava’s leadership and mentoring.

A graduate of Jose Marti MAST 6-12 Academy, and now a sophomore at Howard University, pursuing her degree in Biology, Amerie is still guided by her Breakthrough Scholar experience.“I find myself repeating the affirmation statement even now in college…’I will work hard to be the best I can be, for I am the bright hope for my family, friends and community. I strive to be consistently excellent, responsible, and act with integrity as a student and a leader.’”

Amerie explains,

“this piece about community is so important to me – it’s not just my upbringing, but it is my ‘why’ – why I am determined to make a difference – my community means everything to me.”

Amerie is working to become a physician scientist in medical anthropology – “it called me because it combines the study of people and culture and medicine – to find sustainable ways for medical resources to support underrepresented underprivileged communities.” Amerie wants to go abroad and then come back and pour into her South Florida community. “My dream is to see my community thrive with abundant resources, livable areas. Not only my community but communities that look like mine.”


First-generation families represent the dreams and opportunities that define the cycle of promise in our community. We invite you to join us next week Thursday, November 16 for Give Miami Day in a movement to give back. A gift of any size not only makes a difference but creates the momentum to inspire others to join you in advancing Miami’s Opportunity Generator.

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