MIAMI (CBSMiami) – For more than two decades, the 500 Role Models of Excellence have held their scholarship breakfast in Miami in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

However, due to COVID-19, that tradition was held virtually this year. That didn’t stop students, teachers, and alumni from taking part in what proved to be a day to remember.

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Congresswoman Fredricka Wilson created the program with the intent of having strong role models intervene in the lives of at-risk students.

“A concept, so that I can reach out to the African American boys in this community and change their path to prison,” she said.

After having her friends mentor the students and give them direction, Wilson said the change in their demeanor was almost instant

“When they came, the boys changed. Right before my eyes, they changed. I put them in little neckties, they weren’t red because I didn’t know about that yet. But, I put them in ties and little shirts and we raised them up and hugged and loved them, and they changed. I said ‘this is the key’,” she said.

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After getting approval from the school board, Wilson said she knew the key to keeping the at-risk youth out of prison and setting them on the right path, was through mentorship.

“I told them we have to do something because this has to stop. So we held hands in the auditorium, it was about 200 men and one of them prayed. When he finished praying he said ‘God, please don’t let us fail. Please don’t let us fail’ and everybody took up the chorus ‘please don’t let us fail’, and we just kept repeating that. And God was listening because here we are, 25 years later,” she said.

Among the speakers at the scholarship breakfast was Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.

As the first woman, and the first woman of color, to the elected office, Harris made her message clear to the students – with faith, drive, and ambition, the possibilities are endless.

“Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourselves and know yourself to be whatever you want. If you want to be a future president, or CEO, Nobel laureate, a teacher, a doctor, a pastor, or a community leader, see yourselves as the very best of our country because that’s who you are,” she told them.

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The 5000 Role Models of Excellence project has 105 chapters across Miami-Dade County public schools. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it was all about the seniors as they take their next steps forward.

Lauren Pastrana