Nineteen young people have achieved a great deal, even when the odds were against it and even when it wasn't cool.
By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published May 19, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Anthony Dudley has learned a thing or two about adversity in his young life.
He attended four elementary schools because his parents, always on the hunt for better-paying jobs, moved frequently.
He lived with three different aunts and two sets of grandparents during his middle school years. By the time he was 12, he had gone to live with another aunt because she had food in her refrigerator.
Two years later, when his aunt became ill with rheumatoid arthritis, Dudley took care of her. He cooked her meals and changed her diapers until she died halfway through his junior year.
Now, the 17-year-old, who will graduate Thursday from St. Petersburg High School, lives with his 24-year-old cousin. He works two jobs.
Through his ups and downs, Dudley has known he would go to college. He can trace his resolve to a recognition ceremony he attended after he won an Ebony Scholars award as a fifth-grader at Woodlawn Elementary School.
He didn't know anything about the Ebony Scholars Motivational Program; he just knew he liked being recognized for being smart.
"It wasn't cool to get good grades in elementary school," he said Saturday at the annual Ebony Scholars luncheon. "It made me feel good to know there were other smart black people."
Dudley attended this year's luncheon with 18 other students from seven south Pinellas high schools. Together, they make up the Ebony Scholars Seniors of 2004, a group of high-achieving black 12th-graders.
The students received stipends of $250 to $750 at the luncheon to help with their college expenses.
Currently in its 20th year, the Ebony Scholars Program was founded by Vyrle Davis, a retired educator who began his career as a teacher more than 40 years ago at 16th Street Middle School, now John Hopkins Middle School. Davis rose through the ranks to become Area II superintendent and was the highest ranking African-American in the school district when he retired in 1995.
He has continued to monitor the Ebony Scholars Motivational Program, which has involved thousands of students. The program initially targets elementary students, whose principals recommend them for awards. To remain an Ebony Scholar in middle school, a student must maintain a 3.3 grade point average. A high school student must maintain a 3.0 grade point average.
The Ebony Scholars Academic Club, open to 11th- and 12th-graders with at least a 3.0 average, is more structured. Students attend monthly meetings where successful community members speak.
In the high-stakes world of SAT scores and college placement, some may scoff at a 3.0 average, Davis said. But for students like Dudley, who struggle with poverty and transiency - not to mention peer pressure that can set them up for failure - maintaining a B is quite an accomplishment. And many of the Ebony Scholars' grade point averages are much higher, he added.
The 19 students at the luncheon Saturday entered the Columbia Restaurant, at the downtown Pier, to a standing ovation from friends and family members. Anthony Langhorne, a junior at Gibbs High School, welcomed the seniors. Justin Clarke, another Gibbs High junior, gave the invocation. Kennetra Irby, a junior at St. Petersburg High, gave a "progress report to the community," outlining the scholars' activities during the past year.
Then a former Ebony Scholar addressed the seniors. Yarbrah T. Peeples graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High in 1998 and this month received a master's degree in business administration from Florida A&M University.
"Achievement is not guaranteed," she told them. "You must work for it."
St. Petersburg High student Ramon Snow shared what the Ebony Scholars Program has taught him: "I used to be extremely quiet and shy. Being in this program has helped me open up so much."
A half-hour later, he learned he had won a $500 AmSouth Bank scholarship and a $500 Dr. and Mrs. Freddie McRae scholarship. He will use the money at Florida Atlantic University, where he plans to major in education.
Dudley learned he had won a $500 Israel Heard memorial scholarship, a $250 Mr. and Mrs. Charley Williams scholarship and a $250 Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Keene scholarship, which he will use at the University of Central Florida in pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree.
Boca Ciega High: Rose Mary Cates
Gibbs High: Kayla King, Allen McClellan
Lakewood: William Anderson, Lauren Brown, Ramon Henderson, Chanele Hunter, Shaneka Everett, Erika Williams
Pinellas Park High: Joylyn Grier, Nicole Lamar, Sharmae Lamar
St. Petersburg Catholic: Mojeh Adams, Christine Guerrier
St. Petersburg High: Anthony Dudley, Alphia Morin, Louisa Powell, Ramon Snow