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ICYMI: Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Celebrate Black History Month and Host Contest Winners at Governor’s Residence

February 27, 2024

Governor’s Press Office

Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Celebrate Black History Month and Host Contest Winners at Governor’s Residence

Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Celebrate Black History Month and Host Contest Winners at Governor’s Residence

Photo courtesy of the Executive Office of the Governor

Tallahassee, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis hosted a reception at the Governor’s Residence in honor of Black History Month. Governor DeSantis recognized educators and announced the winners of the student art and essay contest. This year’s theme is Celebrating Florida’s African American Heroes and Their Contribution to Freedom. The Black History Month Student and Educator Contests are made possible through a collaboration between the Department of Education, Volunteer Florida, the Florida Lottery, and the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

“Florida is proud of its rich African American history,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “It was great to celebrate with educators and students from across the state while highlighting the achievements of African Americans in Florida.”

“Each year, it is a privilege to welcome Florida's students and educators to the Governor’s Residence for Black History Month,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “The 2024 art and essay contest winners creatively highlighted the numerous contributions of African American Floridians to protect and champion freedom, and the Governor and I are pleased to recognize the winners for their excellent submissions.”

“Congratulations to the Black History Month art, essay, and educator award winners,” said Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez. “The submissions throughout the state celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans have inspired each of us. Our administration is especially thankful to our educators who are working every day to teach our children about the important role that African Americans have played in shaping our state and nation.”

"Florida is proud to celebrate the remarkable achievements of our students and educators in this year's Black History Month essay and art contests," said Florida Lottery Secretary John F. Davis. “The winning entries reflect the talent, dedication, and hard work these students consistently demonstrate in the classroom and beyond. Congratulations to these students who have truly made history with their standout submissions.”

“Volunteer Florida is proud to join Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis to as we celebrated Black History Month this evening,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Josie Tamayo. “While we honored African Americans of the past, we also recognized the students and educators who share these individuals’ stories and carry on a legacy of greatness.”

“This month we have been able to celebrate the many accomplishments African American heroes have had on freedom,” said Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. “In Florida, we are proud that our students have the chance to partake in competitions like this where they are able to explore African American history. Congratulations to all of our contest winners!”

Student Art Contest

Students in kindergarten through third grade were invited to submit original artworks for the contest. Four art contest winners were chosen, and each received a $100 gift card for school supplies and a one-year pass to Florida state parks. The winners of the student art contest are:

  • Blake Griffith, Kindergarten, River City Science Academy Innovation, Duval County
  • Vanessa Wesbur, Grade 1, Wright Elementary, Okaloosa County
  • Joy Desir, Grade 2, Sealey Elementary, Leon County
  • Jeremiah Dixon, Grade 3, Lincoln Elementary Magnet School, Hillsborough County

Student Essay Contest

Students in fourth through twelfth grade were invited to submit essays based on this year’s theme. Six winners were selected including two elementary students (grades 4–5), two middle school students (grades 6–8), and two high school students (grades 9–12). Winners received a two-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation and a $100 gift card for school supplies. The winners of the essay contest are:

  • Jeremiah Gordon, Grade 5, Homeschool, Brevard County
  • Skyla Brooks, Grade 5, Williston Elementary School, Levy County
  • Adrienne Menard, Grade 8, Miami Arts Charter School, Miami-Dade County
  • Katherine Newkirk, Grade 8, Okaloosa STEMM Academy, Okaloosa County
  • Daniel Macias, Grade 11, Miami Coral Park Senior High School, Miami-Dade County
  • Joseph Gordon II, Grade 10, Homeschool, Brevard County

Excellence in Education Award

There were four winners for the Excellence in Education Award Contest. The winners were selected from nominations sent in by principals, teachers, parents or guardians, and students. Excellence in Education Award winners received a $2,500 monetary recognition provided by Volunteer Florida. The Excellence in Education Award winners are:

  • Heather Bernard teaches Reading and Social Studies to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at Aventura Waterways K-8 Center in Miami-Dade County
  • Alicia Gant teaches Business and AP Art to 9-12th graders at Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami-Dade County
  • Teresita Herrera teaches Civics to 7th graders at Shenandoah Middle Museums Magnet in Miami-Dade County
  • Keisha Kimble teaches Exceptional Education and Physical Education to grades Pre-K through 6th grade at Richardson Sixth Grade Academy in Columbia County
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