Campus & Community

PBSC’s MLK celebration inspires crowd

Olympic gold medalist Robert “Bob” Beamon knows a lot about winning in the face of challenges and adversity.

As keynote speaker for Palm Beach State College’s 24th Annual Dr. Martin Luther, King Jr. Celebration Jan. 19, he described overcoming a tough beginning – with the death of his mom just months after his birth and getting into trouble as a youth – to set world and Olympic records at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. His Olympic record at 22 years old from a long jump of 29 feet, 2.5 inches still stands over 50 years later, and his success coined the phrase “Beamonesque.” It means “an athletic feat so superior to what has come before, it is overwhelming” and gained an entry in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary.

“I will never believe that the man who couldn’t read or write or was going in the wrong direction…they would write this about me,’’ Beamon said.

His life in South Jamaica Queens, N.Y. changed when his high school track coach discovered his talent and when he attended college, first in North Carolina and later on a track and field scholarship at the University of Texas in El Paso. He lost the scholarship when he and other African American athletes boycotted a track meet at Brigham Young University in protest of what they believed were racist policies, but he still went on to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.

Olympic gold medalist Bob Beamon speaks to the audience.

“When things get bad or you fall on your butt, pick yourself up, brush it off. Never give up,’’ he told the audience. “Always go for it. I’m not asking you to jump 29 feet,’’ he continued over laughter. “When you finish accomplishing your goal, you shall feel like you had a Beamonesque day.”

Themed “When Standing Up Matters,” the celebration drew hundreds of attendees to the Duncan Theatre on the Lake Worth campus, as well as online, and included a presentation of the College’s six 2023 Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Awards to winners in five categories. They were chosen from nominations open to the public. In video presentations displayed before accepting their awards from PBSC President Ava L. Parker, J.D., the honorees shared their motivations for giving back and making a difference in the spirit of King and sometimes even in the face of their own adversities.

Honorees from left are: Professors Eliana Mukherjee, Ph.D., Kalisha Waldon, Ph.D. (Faculty/Staff), The Rev. J.R. Thicklin, D.Div. (Individual), Jacqueline Pecker (Student), Bernard Harrigan (Alumni) and Anita M. Mattner executive director of Women of Tomorrow Mentor & Scholarship Program, who accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

“I’m so honored to be standing here receiving an award named after the first changemaker that I ever learned about,’’ said Jacqueline Pecker, the student category winner. “Dr. King’s legacy is the epitome of what leadership can do, and winning this award means that I’m making a change by following his footsteps by leading through love.”

A member of the Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors College and the Phi Theta Kappa chapter president on the Boca Raton campus, Pecker credits the leadership opportunities at PBSC for paving her road to recovery from mental illness. Among her achievements she piloted the “Let’s Press ‘Paws’” initiative. It promotes mental health awareness at PBSC by providing safe spaces for students to “press pause” on life’s demands with on-campus monthly therapeutic activities.

Other award winners are:

Bernard Harrigan (Alumni), a 2021 PBSC graduate who is now an environmental justice and social change major at Florida Atlantic University, who uses diplomacy to engage Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities in climate change action plans.

Professors Eliana Mukherjee, Ph.D., and Kalisha Waldon, Ph.D. (Faculty/Staff), who have provided training on culturally responsive pedagogy through workshops offered by PBSC’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. They also were facilitators for the 2021 and 2022 Summer Institutes. Their work has impacted numerous faculty and led to curriculum and assessment redesign to help bridge the completion and retention gaps, particularly among students of color, low-income and first-generation college students.

The Rev. J.R. Thicklin, D.Div. (Individual), the lead servant and influencer of Transforming Grace Ministries and president & CEO of Destiny by Choice, where he is empowering lives and shaping destinies of those impacted by domestic and sexual violence, fatherlessness, and other social and health determinants. Thicklin’s efforts and programs begin early in the lives of young men. His program Destiny Changers: Raising Boys to Men is focused on boys ages 10-19 and addresses key areas of self-identity, responsibility, purpose, service and vision.

Women of Tomorrow Mentor and Scholarship Program (Organization), which was founded in 1997 by television journalist and author Jennifer Valoppi and Don Browne, former president of Telemundo Communications Group, Inc. and former president and general manager of WTVJ, the Women of Tomorrow Mentor & Scholarship Program (WOT) to inspire and motivate at-risk girls to live up to their full potential through small group mentoring by highly accomplished professional women and empowering mentees to achieve their dreams through scholarship opportunities for higher education. WOT currently mentors more than 4,000 primarily minority students in 160 public high schools in South Florida and Metro Detroit, in partnership with public school systems.

Kimberly Lancaster, dean of academic affairs at the Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves campuses, was mistress of ceremonies for the celebration, which was organized by the District Diversity Committee. It also included remarks from Van Williams, provost and dean of student services at the Boca Raton campus, and Carolyn L. Williams, PBSC Board of Trustees chairperson, as well Palm Beach State College Concert Chorus performances directed by Professor Allen Webber and accompanied by adjunct instructor Giorgi Chkhikvadze.

To view more pictures, visit the Flickr album.

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