Walking into the Prime Osborn Convention Center, I was struck by the enormous crowd that filled the space with close to 1,500 people, representing the entire Jacksonville community - businesses and nonprofits, men and women, young and old, black and white - all gathered to honor the birthday of a man whose dreams and visions we all continue to strive to realize.
The cover of the program has a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "If you can't fly, then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."
Jada Martin, a 12th Grader at Englewood High School was by far the most impressive and powerful speaker of the morning - underscored by the spontaneous and vigorous standing ovation that her speech received. Poised and articulate, this young woman spoke of the very essence of Dr. King's message - faced by hardships and loss at a very young age Jada showed determination and perseverance throughout her young life, never succumbing to the challenges and barriers she faced in reaching for her dreams.
She spoke of the untimely death of her mother - and then later her grandmother, both of whom she honored and continues to honor through her accomplishments and the many honors she has received. And she spoke proudly about her educational goals, about receiving college credits through the Early College Program at Englewood High School and about her aspirations for the future. She stood as the finest example of what the future holds for Jacksonville and a wonderful role model for the best that Duval County Public Schools provides for the strength and pride of our community.
Keynote speaker, Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, asked the audience what Dr. King would think about where our nation is today in the struggle for civil rights and economic equity that we continue to experience in 2015. As Dr. Morial pointed out, Dr. King would have been disappointed with current events in this county relating to racial violence and unrest - but he would have smiled with great pride, as did 1500 people collectively, at what a young Black woman in Jacksonville, Florida has accomplished in her young life and for the potential she holds for our collective future.
The Jacksonville Public Education Fund has as one of its core values, being Student Centered. We make decisions first and foremost on what is in the best interest of children in Duval County, with a special focus on students who face barriers to obtaining a high-quality education. We believe - as Jada Martin so beautifully personifies - that all students can achieve at high levels when provided with high quality instruction and support. Jada has achieved at the highest levels and we are all extremely proud to have learned from her today.