The only gift Rood Emmanuel wanted for high school graduation was a Malcolm X poster to take with him to college.
It used to hang in front of his front-row seat in advanced placement literature and composition class at Inlet Grove High School in Palm Beach County. It reads: “The ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.”
The poster now hangs above his desk in his Gainesville apartment and reminds him every day to reach for his goals.
“It has a significant story,” Emmanuel, 18, said. “It symbolized making something out of myself despite the challenges I’ve faced in life.”
Emmanuel is from a low socioeconomic area in Riviera Beach, Florida, where being homeless and not attending a large university is the reality, he said.
However, during his freshman year at the University of Florida, Emmanuel founded a nonprofit organization, that provides scholarships and mentorships to high school seniors who live in similar circumstances.
“It’s not a reality for every student [to attend college], and it should be,” he said.
Igniting Dreams will award its first scholarship in the spring to a student graduating from his former high school, Inlet Grove.
The nonprofit will only award a student from Palm Beach County this year, but Emmanuel said he plans to offer another scholarship to a student from Gainesville next year.
In order to fund the scholarships, Igniting Dreams holds fundraising events, like volleyball tournaments, and sells apparel on its website.
Emmanuel’s personal struggles inspired him to help others, along with a visit back to Inlet Grove High School last spring and a tour he gave to members of Kappa Leadership Development, a youth development program.
Jermaine Pinkey, a member and leader of the Kappa League, asked Emmanuel to lead a tour for this group and said Emmanuel was hesitant but happy to do it.
“I asked him to give us insight on the important parts of campus — show us things only students know,” Pinkney said.
When the tour was finished, Emmanuel shared his story with the group, which reminded him of the struggles he and his family faced growing up and sparked his idea to give back.
During the fall semester of his junior year in high school,
Emmanuel and his family of four were homeless and living with a family friend in one bedroom. He said the financial struggles his family experienced motivated him to get into a good school.
When he visited his Title I high school last spring, Emmanuel said he was hurt because he noticed students were not applying themselves to their full potential, which inspired him to make Igniting Dreams a mentorship program that offers a scholarship.
“I wanna see them make it further than what they aspire to be themselves,” the psychology sophomore said.
With the help of his advanced placement literature teacher, Ashley Cartwright, Emmanuel and his mentorship team visited the school in August and informed graduating seniors about Igniting Dreams at an assembly. Now, the program has more than 30 mentors and mentees.
Cartwright said she’s proud of Emmanuel and his successes.
“I’ve watched him grow from a very sheltered high school student to a world thinker who loves to share and learn with those around him,” she wrote in an email.
Cartwright and Pinkney contribute to the nonprofit. Emmanuel said he depends on them both.
Igniting Dreams is making a difference by letting students know someone used to be in their place, she said.
Now, when Emmanuel visits Cartwright back at Inlet Grove High School, it isn’t Malcolm X staring down at her class, but a large poster of Emmanuel. Cartwright said she knew his story would remind students of where they came from and where they could be going.
Emmanuel said every time he sees the poster he is overcome with gratitude.
“I hope to help students as she helped me,” Emmanuel said. “That means so much more to me than the struggles I’ve had academically and emotionally.”