Programs
DECEMBER 2012

Former black college honored; Collier-Blocker scholarship preserves past, promises future

More than 70 public officials, special guests and alumni gathered on the St. Johns River State College Palatka campus to honor one of Florida’s original black junior colleges and celebrate SJR State’s first in-district minority scholarship program, a tribute President Joe Pickens assured would benefit local students “forever and ever.”

The Collier-Blocker Junior College Exhibit and Scholarship Dedication ceremony included a presentation by Dr. Walter Smith, author of “The Magnificent Twelve: Florida’s Black Junior Colleges.” Smith recalled the struggles and triumphs of the short-lived Collier-Blocker college. Smith, who is also a graduate of the first black junior college in St. Petersburg, said the colleges laid an educational foundation for many students. “Had it not been for these institutions, where would we have gone?” he said.

Pickens delivered a heartfelt speech addressing how the new scholarship program, bearing the Collier-Blocker name, would fulfill a promise he made to the community.

The program was created following the elimination of SJR State’s basketball program in March. Pickens explained how the funds once used to support the athletic program would now support 12 academic scholarships - based solely on local students’ academic aspirations and needs.

“Many young men played sports here at the College and then went on to lead productive lives somewhere else,” Pickens said. “My true vision… is to enhance the lives of young men and women from here, who want to be here, who need an opportunity here in our community. I believe that’s what this scholarship will do.”

Pickens also told the audience the evening’s event represented more than the dedication of a wall.

“It is the legacy of Collier-Blocker memorialized - not in plaques and pictures, but in the hopes and dreams and lives and accomplishments of the real, live, men and women from Putnam, Clay and St. Johns counties,” Pickens said. “For generations, there will always be 12 students who are a living embodiment of Collier-Blocker Junior College, in their articulation here, and in their achievements in their lives.”

The scholarship program will accept new applicants each year as participants complete their program of study.

Rian Giddings, one of the scholarship recipients, thanked the program founders for the positive changes in his life. Giddings expressed his gratitude for a second chance to pursue the dreams he said he had buried after leaving Bethune-Cookman University.

When contemplating what the scholarship meant to him, Giddings said one word continued to echo profoundly in his thoughts – success. “I am quite astonished at the direction my own life has begun to lead as a result of this,” he said. “I can continue to pursue what I once thought was impossible…. I too can be a successful person.”

Giddings plans to transfer to the University of North Florida after completing his Associate in Arts degree in the spring.

Heritage and history

The event also included the unveiling of a wall dedicated to the heritage and history of Collier-Blocker Junior College. The wall includes a portrait of Albert Williams, Collier-Blocker’s first president, painted by Putnam County resident Nell Allen. Also on display are photos of Collier-Blocker’s former students, as well as a plaque to display the names of the new scholarship recipients.

Collier-Blocker opened in 1960, offering postsecondary educational opportunities for black students from Clay, Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties. The college began classes at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Palatka with an enrollment of 59 students. The College later merged with St. Johns River Junior College in 1965.

The college was named after black educators Dr. Nathan W. Collier and Sara Blocker. According to Smith’s book, both had combined efforts to establish the Florida Normal and Industrial College in St. Augustine in 1918.

A glimpse into the future

Pickens concluded his speech by sharing his goal of someday attending a Collier-Blocker Scholarship reunion.

“I hope I can be here 20 years from now… when 120 Collier-Blocker scholars come here with their accomplishments, with their dreams fulfilled … with their families,” Pickens said. “We can all talk about their hopes and dreams that have been realized over the last 20 years and how they started here at St. Johns River State College.”


PHOTO CAPTIONS:

President Joe Pickens, J.D., (right) and Dr. Walter Smith, a special guest at the Collier-Blocker Junior College Exhibit and Scholarship Dedication ceremony, shake hands at the revealing of the Collier-Blocker wall on the SJR State Palatka campus.

Collier-Blocker Junior College alumni stand before the dedication wall located on the SJR State Palatka campus. From left: Dr. Walter Smith, alumni Henry Jenkins, Harriett Belton Pinkston (CB faculty), alumni Lillian Curry Lee, Murline West, Targie Rhim, Vivian McRae and T.R. Cohen.

Dr. Walter Smith, author of “The Magnificent Twelve: Florida’s Black Junior Colleges,” recalls the struggles and triumphs of the short-lived Collier-Blocker college.

SJR State President Joe Pickens, J.D., delivers a heartfelt speech on how the new scholarship program, bearing the Collier-Blocker name, would fulfill a promise he made to the community.

Scholarship recipient Rian Giddings thanks the program founders for the positive changes in his life.

Scholarship recipient Rian Giddings welcomes Collier-Blocker alumni Targie Rhim with a hug.

SJR State Trustee John Nelson (left) chats with Collier-Blocker alumni T.R. Cohen and guest, Vivian McRae.