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Fair Street students close Black History Month with inspirational 'career walk'
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Linda Rucker Hutchens shows Fair Street International student Joseph Rodriguez, 12, and Krystal Guerra, 11, old books and other items Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, at the Gainesville Hall County Black History Society booth during a heritage program for students in the school's gymnasium. - photo by Scott Rogers

Chris Quinones and business partner Jarad Martin, who operate Untouchable Hair Studio in Gainesville, delivered a tried and true message to elementary students at the Fair Street International Academy in Gainesville on Thursday, Feb. 28.

“We do a lot of mentoring and try to give back,” Quinones said, adding that he likes to help young kids “broaden their horizon for the future” and “open their eyes to more careers.”

It’s about teaching them to avoid the trappings of young adulthood.

The two were on hand for the annual heritage luncheon at the school celebrating Black History Month and participated in a new addition for 2019 called the “career walk.”

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Fair Street International School third-grader Nakia Whelchel watches a demonstration Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, by the Gainesville Water Depaartment during a heritage program for students in the school's gymnasium. - photo by Scott Rogers

Students had the opportunity to meet former teachers, local business owners, government officials and community activists who discussed the history and legacy of African-American leadership and entrepreneurship in Gainesville.

“Our theme is ‘Pieces of the Dream,’ with an emphasis on giving back to our community,” said Principal Gwenell Brown, referring to the famous speech by Martin Luther King Jr.

For Martin, it was an opportunity “to show (students) there are black-owned small businesses. You don’t have to be a rapper or athlete to get out of your current situation.”

For former Gainesville city councilwoman and mayor Myrtle Figueras, who taught in local schools before serving in public office, the word “opportunity” means a lot.

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Robert King, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church on Summit Street, answers questions at his booth Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, during a heritage program for students at Fair Street International School. - photo by Scott Rogers

“I came from very humble beginnings,” Figueras said. “My momma planted seeds and thoughts of gratitude in my heart. She helped me understand that preparation plus opportunity equals success.”

Willie Lipscomb of Lipscomb’s Interior Maintenance said giving back is a value he cherishes and wants to pass on to today’s youth.

“It’s important because I’m from Gainesville,” he added. “I’ve been here all my life. Anytime I have an opportunity to give back to the community, I’m going to do that.”

Lipscomb, with the help of some candy, created a rapport with Fair Street students, asking them to confidently introduce themselves and state what they want to do when they grow up. He then had students write down their career aspirations to take home and share with their parents.

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Gainesville City Councilwoman Barbara Brooks speaks to Fair Street International School students about where their water comes from Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, during a heritage program for students in the school's gymnasium. - photo by Scott Rogers

“As they left, they were more vocal,” Lipscomb said. “I think that’s important with our kids.”

Following the “career walk,” students participated in a medley of African-American musical history that incorporated elements of tribal and Afrobeat, as well as blues, jazz, rock n’ roll, Motown soul and modern hip-hop.

Students also had the opportunity to view an exhibit of African-American innovators and learn about their contributions to America and the world.

Showing students good examples of what’s possible in their life was the goal, and something Brown said she hopes to expand on next year.

“If we talk about it, that piques their interest,” she added.

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