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A Fabulous Life: AKAdemy Showcase & Awards Program
BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Each year the Zeta Upsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. works hard to promote their motto: “Sisterhood and Service” through the AKA AKAdemy program that services the youth in the community. And 2014 was no exception. So when AKA President Crystal Pruitt announced she would strive to do things bigger and better, she wasn’t kidding.
The AKAdemy annually holds an extravaganza spotlighting outstanding members in their program. Last year’s Pink Paparazzi affair was such a bit hit many wondered how they would top it. Add on the AKAdemy is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and the pressure was on.
But the ladies came through and booked the St. Petersburg Coliseum, quaintly situated downtown, to house the influx of guests.
To keep the program moving, local chapter President of the National Council of Negro Women Angela Rouson and Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers tagged teamed the mistress of ceremony duties.
“It speaks to talent, but it also speaks to creativity,” Flowers commented after a spectacular showcase of talent among the youths involved in entertaining the crowd with their song and dance routines.
The AKA AKAdemy is structured to focus on the developmental needs of adolescent teen girls and boys beginning in sixth grade and following them through high school graduation. Mentors work with them promoting high academic achievement and healthy lifestyles that will bring economic security to their future families. Hundreds of students are served each year with funding made possible by the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (JWB).
AKAdemy Program Director Manitia Moultrie gave a rundown on how it all got started, first with a group of some 30 girls known today as Gems, who were the daughters of Alpha Kappa Alpha members. It continued to expand into neighbors and community youth and the signature program was formed in the 1980s.
After receiving funding through the JWB, mother and daughter luncheons were thrown and quaint showcases were put on over the years highlighting step and fashion shows much like today.
Now the program has blossomed with over 150 girls participating in the Gems and Exquisite Gems programs. In the 1990s, boys joined the program after a parent approached the sorority wondering if they could continue their great work with both genders.
“And then the Pathfinders were born,” explained Moultrie with a chuckle who spoke of soliciting help from the Omega Psi Phi fraternity and starting collaborative activities between the girls and the boys, “and life was never the same.”
This year’s graduating class consisted of 23 young men and women, some having signed up for the program in their middle school years, others joining at various ages. Each now arguably a better person for having the positive influences the AKAdemy brings to their lives.
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After a dance off between the Exquisite Gem steppers and those in the Pathfinder program, in which it was rumored to have, “gotten fierce,” with secret set rehearsals and personal challenges; awards were presented to selected young men and women in their respective programs. Many earned scholarships for their leadership skills exemplifying the five Cs the AKAdemy work to instill in its members: competence, connections, character, confidence and contributions to society.
Kristopher Passley and Monique Griffin earned various awards and scholarship monies. Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch recognized their achievements and good character with a $500 scholarship each in the name of his late father David Welch to further their education. Griffin also was presented with the spirit award and Passley was honored with Pathfinder of the year.
Other notable stars were Hydeia Thomas who walked away with the Angel Award for her quiet spirit, Kayla Crawford with the Blossom Award, and Jaquira Darlings who earned the Character Award for her wonderful demeanor and spirit.
President of Eta Rho Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, James Jackson, Jr. spearheads the Pathfinder program that provides guidance to African-American boys, and awarded Citizen of the Year to Zion Blockson, Most Improved Pathfinder to Alias Middleton, and the Leadership Award to Kevon Neal-Parker.
Eight Merit scholarships of $500 were awarded to top applicants in an essay competition and the Madame Vivian Rouson Scholarship, in honor of longtime Pinellas County educator and one of the first black educators to teach in the newly integrated Pinellas County system back in the mid- 1960s, was also awarded.
A five-dollar donation was accepted for the AKAdemy Showcase & Awards program, as well as the after party, leading to $1,390 in contributions. Each student recipient received $150 for their achievements.
“One thing I love about this event is that it shows that all women are absolutely lovely,” beamed Flowers who gushed with the stories of transformations both the young ladies and the gentlemen have gone through to get to where they are today. “It accentuates everything.”
For 20 years the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has motivated young ladies in the AKA AKAdemy program to stay academically focused, hold positive relationships with peers and adults, and has provided safe and exciting exposure to new experiences. And with the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity joining them and providing elite programs to African-American youths throughout the St. Petersburg community, there is little participants can’t overcome.
The Gem and Pathfinder programs are currently accepting enrollment applications. Although they fill quickly, neither organization likes to turn anyone away, so hurry and sign up. The deadline is fast approaching. Check out the zuochapter.org (Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority website), or etarhoques.com (Omega Psi Phi Fraternity website). Applications for both programs can be found on either website.