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Competition awards innovation
Posted on 06/03/2021
4 students stand next to each other to present

Seeing the innovative ideas and detailed plans students created to benefit their communities will affirm that these Minority Leadership Scholars are aligned to be tomorrow’s leaders. As part of the process of molding young leaders, the Minority Achievement Office’s MLS’ initiative sponsored an Innovation Competition and essay contest. 


In the Innovation Contest, participants investigated issues that impact their communities and developed an action plan. The four finalist teams pitched their ideas, virtually, due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The event provided teams an opportunity to interact with volunteer judges from institutions of higher learning, local educators and human resources. 


Apopka High School’s team (Johnny Simmons, Michaela Moss, Taylor Adams and John Latimer III) proposed reviving the Billie Dean Community Garden to increase access to healthier foods in their community. The South Apopka area suffers from an increasing poverty rate and lack of access to healthy foods. The students will partner with Feed the Need of the 4 Roots Foundation and the Big Potato Foundation to provide free produce to community members, primarily targeting the elderly, as well as students of Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School.


“A healthier diet can reduce stress, help one focus better in school and lead to weight loss. Overall increasing one’s quality of life is what we want to do,” Michaela Moss, Apopka sophomore, said.


The Apopka group cited how earlier in the year they had a community shoe giveaway and bike giveaway, but realized those items only help so much. To provide healthy foods and to teach others how to grow them will afford them the opportunity to have sustained nutrition. 


Much like the Apopka plan, the Cypress Creek High School’s team (Thais Montan, Melissa Santlesteban, Lesliet Moran) presentented “One plant at a time.” Their project will be a collaboration of the MLS program and the school’s Future Farmers of America. Once a month, the initiative will invite community members to a workshop to teach them how to plant seasonal fruits and vegetables and then provide the supplies needed for participants to recreate the garden at their own homes.  



Their ideas for long-term sustainability earned Apopka and Cypress Creek first and second place, respectively receiving $1000 and $750 to further pursue their efforts. Evans High School came in third for its MAN Up summit, an event to help shape minority males to be better positioned to provide for their community and future families; and Wekiva High School received an Honorable Mention for its plan to address quality education within its community. Third place and the Honorable Mention received $350 and $150, respectively, to further their efforts. The Urban League of Central Florida generously donated the monetary awards.


In addition to the Innovation Competition, MLS sponsored an essay contest, “Fierce Urgency of Now.” This contest required students to address at least one historical event and compare it with a recent event to highlight progress and then suggest paths or solutions to making a positive impact in the community and society. Contestants were able to use EverFi curriculum and/or current events in connection with more historical African American events to demonstrate where we, as a culture, need to learn, adapt and evolve so that, as a nation, we may progress. The four finalists: Trevor Owens, Winter Park HS; Nihkil Edouard, Wekiva HS; Kelsey Johnson, Evans HS; and Asher Lawson, Evans HS, were invited to the recorded Innovation Competition to read their essays.  Awards went to Trevor, Nihkil, Kelsey and Asher, in respective first, second and third place and an honorable mention. Winners received a certificate from the MAO and Visa gift card courtesy of the Urban League of Central Florida. 


The pride and excitement this event generated within the student participants exemplifies how the pandemic did not dim their compassion, but instead ignited their fire to succeed and assist others.


* The MLS Initiative operates at the school level and empowers high school students to make significant contributions in their communities and aids in preparing students for colleges and careers of their choosing by increasing their participation in leadership development and community outreach.  The MAO MLS Initiative partnered with EverFi to sponsor the essay contest.