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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A local High Springs student was among just a handful of students statewide to be named winners in the state’s 2021 Black History Month Contest. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis held a student essay and art contest with six winning students receiving a fully paid four-Year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

“The Governor and I are honored to celebrate this year’s Black History Month student and teacher award winners and their achievements,” DeSantis said in a news release from the Governor’s Office. “It is our hope that today’s award recipients continue to share their gifts and serve as inspirations across our great State of Florida.”

This year’s contest theme was “Community Champions – Celebrating the Contributions of African Americans in Florida’s Communities,” sponsored by the Florida Lottery and other partners. The contest received thousands of student entries across the state. On April 22, 2021 First Lady DeSantis announced the six winners, two of whom are from Alachua County. Brynley Ashraf from the High Springs Community School had the winning essay and Immanuel Howard from W. A. Metcalfe Elementary won the art contest.

Ashraf wrote the top elementary school essay, while Howard was one of just two Florida students to win the art contest.

When Ashraf chose the person she considered a ‘community champion,’ she didn’t have to look further than her own school. Ashraf featured Officer Adam Joy, her school resource officer, who serves their community not only through his profession, but also by giving back through his involvement with numerous organizations and as an Ordained Minister at the Deeper Purpose Community Church.

Ashraf, who is a fourth grader at High Springs Community School, bypassed a list of suggested subjects and instead decided to write about Officer Adam Joy. In her essay, entitled “The ‘Joy’ of Our Community,” she outlined the many ways Officer Joy serves the High Springs community, including organizing programs like Meals on Wheels, No Son Left Behind, back-to-school haircuts, backpacks with school supplies, senior citizen Valentine meals, Easter and Christmas gift giveaways, and even raising money to donate cars to families in need and a variety of giveaways and community events. This past January, Officer Joy rallied the community to gather necessities for a family whose home burned down.

“I believe Officer Joy should be recognized for his amazing work,” wrote Ashraf. “From mentoring kids, supporting families and helping senior citizens, there’s no limit to his kindness. I cannot think of anyone more worthy of recognition. My family has contributed to the toy drive and I gave Officer Joy some stuffed animals, which he keeps in his patrol car to help calm kids that are scared or have been in accidents,” Ashraf said.

Joy grew up in High Springs where he currently serves as a police officer and as of this year he is also assigned as the School resource Officer for the Community School. As a boy he always wanted to be a police officer and make a positive impact on the community. In 2007, Adam graduated from the Police Academy.

Joy is also an Ordained Elder at his church. Over the 14 years, he has sponsored over 300 events and programs that are completely free to the public. Some programs include Meals on Wheels, where he cooks and delivers meals to senior citizens in need. He also runs “No Son Left Behind,” a program for boys K-12th grade. “The purpose is to provide a positive male role model while focusing on mentoring, behavioral updates and goal setting. It's all about the children, they are our future,” Joy said.

He was surprised when Ashraf chose to make him the focus of her essay and asked to interview him. “It was very humbling,” he said. “You just never know who may be watching what you do. I’m really honored. When they announced she had won out of the thousands of entries it reminded me how good this school is to help nurture students like Brynley. She did a great job and put a lot of work into this project,” Joy said.

For Brynley Ashraf it was a story she felt needed telling, never expecting the scholarship. But despite being in fourth grade, she already has plans laid out for that scholarship. “I want to be a sign language interpreter and translator. The University of North Florida has a good program so I am planning to go there,” she said.

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