Make a Difference! Leadership Academy Spring 2019 graduation

Four community residents graduated as part of the Spring 2019 Make a Difference! Leadership Academy on May 30, the eleventh class to finish the program, an initiative of the Magnolia Project and the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition.

The goal of the Leadership Academy is teaching skills such as public speaking and advocating for the needs of themselves, their families and the community. Throughout the 16 weeks, students attend policy meetings and see where change initiates regarding neighborhood factors that contribute to health disparities and birth outcomes.

Graduates and special guests – From left to right: LaRonda Howard, class facilitator; Quichavia Lawson, alumna; Robert Morris, graduate; William Proffitt, graduate; Brenda Ford, keynote speaker; Vanessa Jefferson, class facilitator; Eddie Elvord, graduate; Jacqueline Hood, graduate

For their community project, the graduates formatted a voter’s registration platform to allow community voices to be heard. For people in the community voicing their political concern, but not knowing how to make a difference, these leaders will step up and promote change.

Graduates gave their class reflections to the audience during the ceremony. Throughout the class, graduates discuss social determinants of health, race, socioeconomic status, history and so much more. They also embark on some adventures, such as the field trip to the Kingsley Plantation.

Spring 2019 Make a Difference! Leadership Academy class members on the Kingsley Plantation field trip in the garden where slaves used to plant indigo that would be used to dye clothing.

Jacqueline Hood reflected that in seeing what her ancestors endured, she was “dreaming with her eyes wide open.”  She knew that she had to “take on the torch” and continue to fight for rights and freedom.

Keynote speaker Brenda Ford, vision keeper at New Town Success Zone, discussed the three greatest qualities that make up a leader: thankfulness, humility and honor. She reiterated to the class to use their skills that they have learned and use them well and “do what you know you are good at.”

Vanessa Jefferson, class facilitator and coordinator of the Magnolia Project Community Action Network, gave reflections on the classmates for their leadership behaviors throughout the class as well:

  • Robert Morris is consistent with his anti-smoking platform that he shares with youth and adults. He finds a way to weave the importance of quitting tobacco into discussions of advocacy. It hits a personal note as he was introduced to smoking at the age of nine and knows the damage to his health and others.
  • William Proffitt is cool because during class he would listen to the heated discussions on certain “hot button” topics and remain collected until the very end to then offer his words of wisdom.
  • Eddie Elvord is confident because he has strong public speaking skills that he has learned from being in the military, and he uses them to speak on post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Jacqueline Hood is courageous because she is willing to share of her personal hurts from the past. Instead of letting them hold her back, she will use them to help and inspire others.

Michelle Clark, team supervisor at the Magnolia Project, gave the closing remarks to the graduates regarding putting actions behind your goals and words to really make a difference.

Go here to view more photos of the graduation.

For more information about the Make a Difference! Leadership Academy, please contact Vanessa Jefferson at