by Jazmine Otey
The Renaissance and ELLE Academy’s annual Donning of the Blazer took place Friday, Aug. 2 at Hotel Roanoke.
As the luxurious ballroom filled with a myriad of individuals sporting elegant attire, each attendee gathered there for one reason – to celebrate the accomplishments of Roanoke’s youth.
Renaissance Academy was founded in 2012 by Jerel Rhodes and ELLE Academy in 2015 by Diedre Trigg, both with a positive vision for young people – to help them reach success.
Now, nearly seven years later, both founders and a team of mentors continue to hold an unwavering dedication to provide African American teens with the opportunity to engage in productive activities such as college trips, workshops, networking, job shadowing, etc.
“We’re excited to be a blessing and an uplifting, catapulting power to our kids,” Rhodes said. “When asked what this blazer symbolizes, it symbolizes the covering of the community over them and the principles that we teach lie upon their hearts.”
Rhodes explains his involvement with the organization as purely from the heart, given that it isn’t a paid position. Each mentor and/orleader is a part of either the ELLE or Renaissance academy due to their love for each child and the desire to see them prosper.
Succeeding his warm introduction, Mayor Sherman Lea took the stage to commend Rhodes for his hard work with the program. He also mentioned that hard work by community members has led to Roanoke being named as the first 2019 All-American city in the country to be placed in the
National Civic League Hall of Fame!
“Young people, let me say this,” Mayor Lea continued. “We are proud of you, I encourage what you’re doing and what Jerel has placed on you as far as getting a good education.”
Most noteworthy was, Rev. Kathy O’Keefe, pastor Kingdom Life Church, who delivered an uplifting prayer that captured the spirit of the moment and the mission.
Olympic Gold Medalist Sheryl Swoopes was keynote speaker. Also known as the female Michael Jordan, Swoopes was the first player to be signed to the WNBA in 1996. She has won three Olympic gold medals and is a 3-time WNBA MVP.
“I feel the need to tell you how much I personally appreciate what you are doing for the young men and women in this community,” Swoopes said. “It’s not something he has to do; it’s something he chooses to do and it’s in his heart. If the world had more Jerels in it, it would probably be a better place.”
Swoopes proceeded with inspiring anecdotes of her involvement with the WNBA to illustrate to each child in the room that they too could go after their dreams and not be discouraged by societal outlooks and opinions.
“I don’t have to tell you that young Black men and women in this country can go down many paths, but the door unfortunately is wide open to go down the wrong path,” Swoopes said. “It is your strengthand goals… that allow you to close those bad doors and open wider the good doors. I understand that this program exposes you to college options. so, take advantage of it!”
During the event, four members from each academy received awards for: outstanding character, educational and/or service leadership and the “endeavoring beyond” award.
Other members received awards for making the A or A/B honor roll.Four awards were also presented for those who raised the most funds.
In addition, roughly $10,000 was given out in scholarships to about ten individuals, enrolled in or planning to attend a university.
Rhodes expressed that if young people have the desire to be educated, there’s no reason why financial barriers should hold them back.
“If they take what they have and let it burn, it becomes infectious,” Rhodes added.
The event concluded with a lighthearted, choreographed video of Renaissance and ELLE academy members dancing to well-known songs.
According to Rhodes, although the organization is a serious one, they also like to have fun in the process.