Make a Difference! Leadership Academy Spring 2018 class graduates

Top left to right: Graduate Brittany Hargro, District Executive Secretary HD13 at Florida House of Representatives Kiaira Nixon, Graduate Quichavia Lawson, Graduate Kenya Jordan                        Bottom left to right: Graduate Shicoby Booth with her baby boy and Graduate Demetria Drayton with Kenya’s baby boy

Five community residents graduated as part of the Spring 2018 Make a Difference! Leadership Academy on July 12, the tenth class to finish the grassroots program, an initiative of the Magnolia Project and the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. The goal of the Leadership Academy is to instruct individuals on how to advocate on behalf of their community through attending policy meetings and learning how to speak up during them. It also supports the efforts of residents to make changes regarding neighborhood factors that contribute to health disparities and birth outcomes.

For their community project, the graduates adopted Matthew W. Gilbert Middle School and contacted organizations to build a school supply and hygiene product closet and donate products. Sunshine Health, a Magnolia Project Community Action Network partner, has sponsored the project. The graduates believe that middle schoolers need community support, as they are often going through a rough time with puberty and are not as well-regarded as elementary students or self-sufficient as high school students.

Keynote speaker Sandra Johnson, chief executive officer of The MADISEL Group, LLC, discussed the term CEO as having two meanings in respect to a leader:

  • One should be a chief executive officer of their own life – owning their decisions and not letting others dictate their purpose.
  • Leadership takes daily courage to show strength amidst pain, grief and fear, excellence to qualify one’s efforts and the ability to overcome all obstacles that stand in the way.

The word MADISEL in her business’s name stands for making a difference in someone else’s life.

Left to right: Coalition Special Projects Coordinator – LaRonda Howard, Intern with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson – Omari Kemp, District Executive Secretary HD13 at Florida House of Representatives – Kiaira Nixon, CEO of The MADISEL Group, LLC – Sandra Johnson and Magnolia Project Community Action Network Coordinator – Vanessa Jefferson

For the first time, Leadership Academy graduates each received a letter from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and a designed certificate from State Representative Tracie Davis of District 13.

Sonya Thorpe, director of the Magnolia Project, left her closing remarks with a quote from John C. Maxwell, “Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.”

Go here to view more photos from the graduation.

For more information about the Make a Difference! Leadership Academy, please contact LaRonda Howard at