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How high schoolers learn leadership — and get a new suit, too

Mohammad Shatara said he was never “a program kid.” He went to school, football and home every day. The same routine for all four years of high school — school, football, home. Until, his athletic director suggested he go to “some meeting” after school.

“When I walked in, Mr. Edmonds had a suit on and all these folders. He was asking us questions about what we wanted to be when we grow up,” said Shatara, a senior at Glades Central High. “The other people there kept saying, ‘Mohammad we know you aren’t gonna show up again.’ I proved them wrong.”

RELATED: FAU student on a mission to provide ‘Suits for Seniors’

Shatara was one of the 25 students from Glades Central who recently graduated from the Suits for Seniors program, which has served 320 students from 13 schools since its creation in 2015.

Jervonte Edmonds, of Lake Worth, created the program to empower male high school seniors throughout the county with leadership skills. At the end of the eight-week program, the students get a new, tailored “classic black suit” for interviews and other professional endeavors.

This was the program’s first year in Glades area schools, where Edmonds became inspired by another student, Kajuanji Boldin Jr., a senior at Pahokee High.

“It was special,” Edmonds said about the program this year. “These specific students, Mohammad and Kajuanji, have a lot of hunger to be successful. They have really great ideas and just needed a little motivation.”

Shatara said he fell in love with the Suits for Seniors program the first moment he stepped into the room. This 17-year-old wide-receiver was day-dreaming of what success could be like. It was the first time, he said, that someone had asked him about his future beyond football.

“I was sitting there having a vision and writing it all down,” said Shatara. “I was like, ‘OK. I’m ready to be a millionaire one day and buy a house for my mom and provide for my family.’”

RELATED: Suits for Seniors nonprofit to host free community event in Boynton

Shatara will play football at Keiser University in the fall, but he said the program helped him establish a back-up plan in case a career in the NFL doesn’t work out. And, now, he said he is inspired to study business and get out of Belle Glade.

“I want to get away,” he said. “There are a lot of criminals. A lot of bad stuff here. That’s why Mr.Edmonds always tells us, ‘Go home at night’ and be with our families.”

Kajuanji Boldin Jr., one of the 25 who graduated from the program from Pahokee, doesn’t want to leave his hometown of Belle Glade.

Boldin found out from his principal he was selected for this program and said he was “kind of surprised but, I knew that I deserved to be there.”

Up until Boldin’s junior year of high school, his first goal was to become a professional football player like his older cousin Anquan Boldin, who spent 14 seasons in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013.

After suffering a lower-back injury that ended his chances at a football career, Boldin said he needed to find a way to “buckle down” to achieve his new goal — become the first African-American doctor from Pahokee High.

“My plan is to go to the University of Florida to become an orthopedic surgeon,” said Boldin, who got a full-ride scholarship to be a Gator in the fall. “Then, I want to come back and live here. And, like Mr. Edmonds, I want to create a mentor organization for Pahokee students that don’t have a father figure.”

RELATED: Dwyer High football team learns finance, gets suits as reward

Boldin said he knows a lot of kids from his area don’t have a figure they can look up to or someone they can go to for advice. For Boldin, Edmonds served as “a big brother.”

“[Edmonds] came from the same environment as us,” said Boldin. “He showed us empathy. I knew I could always text him or whatnot if I needed advice or help.”

When asked how it felt to finally get their suits at the end of the program, both Boldin and Shatara couldn’t put the feeling into words.

“It was…,” Boldin took a long pause before landing on the word, “different.” “We were walking down City Place and turning heads,” Boldin continued. “It made me feel very powerful and proud that I achieved this.”

Shatara said, “I felt rich. I don’t know how else to describe it. I felt like a grown man that finally achieved something.”

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