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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Pain gives rise to a local hero for others
By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 16, 2007
As Romey Battle stood on stage at Tampa Theatre Thursday evening as one of the recipients of Bank of America's Neighborhood Excellence Initiative Awards, he couldn't help but think about the four painful years he spent living with his dad in Homerville, Ga.
At the age of 5, not fully understanding the gravity of the situation, he watched as mental illness pulled his father into despair.
"I watched him literally lose his mind," Battle said. "It was just me staying with my dad. I felt like I was by myself. That's what inspired me to help people."
Battle moved back to East Tampa with his mother when he turned 9, but he never forgot the promise he made to himself to help other kids overcome challenges.
Twenty years later, Battle began that quest in earnest as a youth program director for the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa. He mentored teens and 'tweens about class, jobs, peer pressure, drugs. Really, about life.
Those efforts evolved into a specific outreach for student athletes. Too many times, Battle, a self-avowed sports junkie, had seen kids with the physical tools to earn a scholarship fall by the wayside because of poor academics.
"I'm not talking about kids who hadn't taken the SAT, I'm talking about kids who didn't have the basic necessities," Battle, 35, explained. "They were reading on low grade levels, barely passing classes. We had to help them get a high school diploma just so they could go to a junior college."
Battle has a fairly impressive list of lives he's touched, including dozens who succeeded in college and even a few currently playing in the NFL. But he looks forward, not back. He recently turned his attention to assisting his college proteges get ready for life after graduation.
"It's more than just preparing them to go to school. It's preparing them to pick the right major and succeed after school," Battle said. "They're choosing degrees that are easy or don't have a high demand in the marketplace.
"But when they've played their four years, they're done. The school's hands aren't on them anymore to guide them and help them get jobs. I don't like to see that."
Battle longs to start his own foundation and concentrate solely on guiding student athletes. Bank of America's honor may well open more doors.
Stageworks and the Point, the community development corporation for greater Palm River, received$200,000 in grant funding.
Dr. Sylvia Campbell (Judeo Christian Health Clinic), Morris Hintzman (Metropolitan Ministries), Carlton Lewis (Florida Institute for Community Studies) and Franci Rudolph (Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) joined Battle as "local heroes." Each received $5,000 for the charity of his or her choice.
Four student leaders received eight-week, paid internships this summer: Sharone Dexter (Plant City High School), Camille Jacobs (Durant), Tristan Kauchick (King) and Kelsey Spiller (Academy of the Holy Names).
I served on the selection committee for the awards initiative, and relished the opportunity to see all the winners who were honored. Helping give away the bank's money was fun, but I promise if I ever win the Lottery, I'm going to hand out my own grants.