Gala spotlights stellar students, Nehemiah Award recipients

Pastor Rudy Ferguson started the I am Dreams program in 2017 at a location on Tharpe Street.
Photo by Vaughn Wilson

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Attorney Jimmy Fasig went to the stage as a presenter for one of the Nehemiah Award recipients. He immediately  got the crowd’s attention with two words.

“I am,” Fasig said.

Then he continued: “I am are two of the most powerful words in the English language because whatever you say after the words I am is a declaration of who you are and what you stand for.”

The words that Fasig spoke have been impactful on pastor Rudy Ferguson for many years. They inspired the I Am Dreams program that he started as a diversion for young people seeking direction.

Last Thursday night’s I am Dreams Gala was Ferguson’s way of doing some fund raising to keep the program going. He is convinced that success of the program can save lives.

That much, Ferguson said, was evident on the stage at The Moon.

“Excellence and motivation to succeed” was on display, Ferguson said. “The ultimate goal is to show them that they can reach it.

“Last night was just the tip of that, showing those kids who sidestepped the landmines, traps and avoided the unnecessary distractions to get where they want to go.”

A sold out crowd packed into The Moon. The program featured performances by the Maddox Dance Company and Tallahassee Nights Live.

In all, eight students were each presented a $5,000 scholarship. Those students were selected by community leaders who received the Nehemiah Award, named for Nehemiah who let people rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the Bible.

“The individuals we are giving the awards to certainly have been rebuilding our community,” Ferguson said before the first presentation.

 Recipients included Carmen Cummings, Kacy Dennis, Christic Henry, City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, Shannon Baker, Willie Williams and Terrance Barber.

The high school students were Adrian McDuffie, Amaya Waymon, Jeremiah West, Jermaine Edwards, Josef Marlow, Kaylin Jean-Louis, Kirsten Ray and Treyvious Copeland.

Several of his backers who assisted with last Thursday night’s program are also helping with a fundraising campaign to pay for a location to house the I am Dreams program, Ferguson said. The Building that was used on Tharpe Street is inhabitable, forcing Ferguson to run the program out of his church on Harlem Street.

The Dreams participants meet once each week. Their mentors include speakers who hold discussions on anger management and other topics. The program currently has 18 participants, Ferguson said.

Recruiting young people is one of Ferguson’s biggest challenges. He suspects it’s because “kids stopped dreaming.”

He added that “kids are not dreaming anymore. There is gun violence and going to prison.”

 “Now we don’t ask kids  that question; what you want to be when you grow up. Kids aren’t thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. They are thinking about what they want to be right now in their current situation.”

Events like the gala keeps Ferguson believing, though.

“I think we sent a great message that the I am Dreams Gala is about helping kids reach their dreams,” he said.

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