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Booker family helps students build future

Freedom Middle School eighth-grader Audrianna Perkins and Evelyn Hickerson, founder of the Gentry Foundation were the 2013 student and community winners of the Monroe and Mary Booker Award.

Freedom Middle School eighth-grader Audrianna Perkins is the 2013 winner of the Monroe and Mary Booker Award.

Few eighth-graders receive a jumpstart in funding their college education. However, Audrianna Perkins, winner of the seventh annual Monroe and Mary Booker Award, said that she is excited about planning her future early.

As part of the celebration of Black History Month, FMS held a special awards ceremony honoring Monroe and Mary Booker, who had 12 children educated in the Franklin Special School District. Each year, the Booker family chooses a student at FMS who demonstrates outstanding leadership skills, a strong work ethic and commitment to education as well as a member of the community who has impacted children through education. Audrianna won the award out of seven students who were nominated this year.

Nine members of the Booker family attended the ceremony in the school gym Thursday afternoon, which included music and presentations by students, faculty, Director of Schools Dr. David Snowden and Principal Dr. Kristi Jefferson.

"This ceremony allows us to recognize students and members of the community who are devoted to education,” Jefferson said. “With a good education, students can become productive citizens who make a difference in our community. The Bookers are wonderful people with a strong conviction of reaching success and putting education first. The award is about paying it forward, giving back and helping others.”

"Audrianna has always been hard working and academically focused,” Audrianna’s mother Jacqueline Sanchez said. “She likes a challenge and studies even when she’s not supposed to be studying. She’s always been like that. She’s the kind of kid that you never expect to have.”

And that is exactly the kind of character that the Booker family is looking for in a scholarship recipient. As part of the selection process, the family gathers to read essays submitted by applicants and chooses the best candidate according to their dedication to education and success. 

Audrianna will receive $500 to use toward her college education, which she will earn incrementally – $100 a year – until she graduates from high school.

Evelyn Hickerson received the community Booker Award this year. She is the founder of the Gentry Foundation, who provides free after school and weekend tutoring for children, especially those at-risk.

The Booker family has a long history in Franklin. Each of Monroe and Mary Booker’s 12 children received their education as students in the Franklin Special School District, and went on to graduate college. Today, they lead careers in law, teaching, engineering, entrepreneurship, social work, finance, and, of course, a former Vanderbilt basketball star-turned-broadcaster, Barry Booker.

Charlotte Hall, a retired teacher of 34 years and the second oldest in the Booker family, served as a teacher at Freedom Middle School for about 15 years and even taught Freedom Middle School’s current assistant principal, Adam Demonbreun, when he was in eighth grade.

“She was an old school teacher who believed in tough love,” Demonbreun said. “Back then, I needed that. She spoke her mind and you knew where you stood.”

During the awards ceremony, Demonbreun told a story of how after not seeing her for five years, Hall sent him balloons when he was in the hospital recovering from injuries from a car accident.

“That is just an example of her character and how he cares about her students even if she hasn’t see them in five years,” he said.

Eventually, Demonbreun followed the path of education and eventually studied under his mentor as a student teacher, and now the two are “the best of friends,” who meet about once a month.

“Education was an expectation in our home” Hall said. “My father and mother held it as the highest priority. Is wasn’t ‘if’ you were going to college, it was ‘where are you going to college?’”

The 12 children of the Booker family were always taught that education comes first and that success would naturally follow if one worked hard and kept priorities on learning and being the best they could be in life. One of Nashville’s first African-American lawyers, Cyrus Booker – the fifth child – said, “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it.”

Cyrus seemed to have learned his can-do attitude from the patriarch of the family Monroe Booker, who was one of Franklin’s first African-American business owners.

“It never occurred to us that these were things that we should have feared,” he said. “It never occurred to us.”

Cyrus earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his law degree from Georgetown University before opening his own law firm in Nashville, Booker Legal Group.

“My mother and father taught us the benefit of hard work and determination,” he said. “They instilled in us a positive attitude that if you put forth the effort you can accomplish your goals.”

Audrianna Perkins seems proud to accept the challenge of carrying out the Booker family legacy of life long learning, success and following dreams.

“I am excited about receiving the award and heading down the road to success,” Audrianna said.


Posted on: 2/28/2013


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