2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award Winners
Activism, Advocacy and Allyship Toward Equality
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Leadership Award - Alumni
Alberto R. Leal, J.D.
From humble beginnings to successful attorney, Alberto R. Leal is the son of two immigrant parents from Latin America and prides himself on the work ethic he was taught from an early age. A native of South Florida, Leal is well aware of the legal challenges facing our community and strives to correct injustices at every opportunity. Specifically, Leal is immensely proud of his vital role in bridging the internet and technology gap facing the visually impaired community through his advocacy work in prosecuting civil rights injustices under the Americans with Disabilities Act while also providing affordable representation in family law cases to low-income clients.
While Leal believes strongly in the difference his work makes, he is most proud of his philanthropic efforts, namely the founding of The Leal Scholars Program at his alma mater (A.A. ’11), Palm Beach State College, to help low-income students afford a higher education. The Leal Scholars Program has assisted multiple students in covering the costs of tuition and essential materials during their respective programs of study at PBSC. Leal is also a proud member of the Paradise Club at Florida Atlantic University, which collects donations to assist student athletes during their time at FAU. He has also donated his time to assist elementary school students with the Village of Wellington after-school tutoring program in recent years, and he has volunteered time to assist with operations at Feeding South Florida while also making monthly donations to the organization. The donations have been used to help bridge the nutritional gap faced by many in our community during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from his professional and philanthropic works, Leal takes pride in being a devout family man and Christian. He and his wife, Christina, are members of the local Christ Fellowship church and when unwinding at home, the Leal family enjoys spending time with their dog, Papo, while preparing for the arrival of their first baby, who is due in August of 2021.
He is president and owner of The Leal Law Firm. In addition to his Associate in Arts degree from PBSC, Leal holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida Atlantic University and a Juris Doctor degree from the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University.
Leadership Award - Student
Chronic illness has been a part of Michelle Aldas’ life since she was about eight. She was told many times as a child that she was just being lazy and making it up. The pain she felt as a child and then later as a college student was never acknowledged and then a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer came in 2011.
In the past years, her health continued to decline, and she became lost in the translation of being “normal” to being disabled. Since her cancer diagnosis, her body continued to break down and she admitted defeat in 2017. She hit rock bottom emotionally, mentally and financially, which led to losing courage and voice for some time and letting the pain and disease take over. In May 2018, she declared her independence from all the negativity brought on from being sick and decided to act. She founded The Invisible Me Warriors-Chronic Illness Advocates of Palm Beach County. A voice that had been muted, that felt defeated, and had been hidden for seven years is now fighting for others. That voice is strong and a warrior. That voice is her own voice, and she says no one or nothing will ever take it away again. Aldas has traveled to D.C. for the Advocacy Summit benefiting the Arthritis Foundation. Even in a flare-up, she made sure her voice was heard.
Aldas has learned to be proud of the struggle she has survived so far as it has made her a courageous warrior. She is thankful to the people who saw past her disability and illness and pushed her to keep going as a warrior, woman, daughter, friend, lover, and advocate. She’s used her newfound strength to help others seek resources and become a strong voice to advocate for access to care. Now, using mobility aides to get around, she is completing her Associate in Science and Associate in Arts degrees at PBSC and shaping a new career as a graphic designer and multimedia artist. She wants to empower others with her story because once someone helped her do that, her life took a positive sharp turn.
Leadership Award - Faculty/Staff
Robin Johnson-Blake has dedicated 31 years in community services outreach, dual enrollment, and recruitment at Palm Beach State College. In 2018, she became the first director of Community Relations for the College.
In her current role, she provides leadership within the organization and the community, publicly representing the College, identifying, developing, cultivating and maintaining partnerships and relationships with external agencies and businesses to enhance the College’s brand.
During her tenure at PBSC, Johnson-Blake has:
• managed and led community forums that relate to the needs and concerns of the communities that the College serves
• coordinated and worked in partnership on special events and projects liaising between the College and the community
• worked with various socioeconomic diverse populations throughout communities, middle and high schools in Florida, and
• directed, budgeted and managed nine local, private, state, and federal grant programs.
Prior to her employment at PBSC, she was employed at Florida Atlantic University as the first assistant director for Minority Recruitment (the position created to recruit diverse populations) and as an admissions counselor. In Alabama, she was an intern for the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission where she surveyed residents in rural areas for economic development improvements.
Throughout her professional career, she believes in strengthening communities for the future educational and economic development of Palm Beach County citizens.
She is actively involved and serves on committees with the Town of Lake Park Diversity Council, Achieve Palm Beach County Parents & Family Engagement Team, Action Alliance for Mental Health, Homeless and Housing Alliance, Boynton Beach Tourism Task Force, Behavioral Health Workforce Pipeline, Refugee Task Force, Teen Leadership Roundtable, St. John Missionary Baptist Church Outreach ministries and other chamber and civil organizations.
Johnson-Blake received her Master of Science in Counseling and Guidance from Jacksonville State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Rehabilitation for the Deaf from Talladega College.
She is the wife of Charles Blake, the mother of Alexis and Evan Johnson, and a proud grandmother of two granddaughters, Ciara and Legaci.
Leadership Award - Individual
Elvin J. Dowling
Elvin J. Dowling is an award-winning author, activist and “architect of change” who is a proud native of West Palm Beach. A staunch advocate of educating future generations of leaders by equipping them with the resources and skills they need to be productive members of society, he has worked to elevate the lives of the “least of these” with unassailable results. In 2014 and, again in 2015, he was successful in securing two separate grants for $1 million each to conduct mentoring activities for 2,200 at-risk youths in 30 cities as a part of President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.”
As chairman of the Board for the Palm Beach Harvest Food Bank, Dowling continues to demonstrate his commitment to South Florida children and families through leadership by example. Just as importantly, as an acclaimed public speaker, mentor and America’s leading advocate for “achieving greatness by embracing change,” Dowling’s book, “License to Live,” has been featured on national and international media outlets, including CNN and National Public Radio, and has been lauded as “an eye-opening and heart-stirring message that sheds light on the truth that your past does not dictate your future.”
Dowling has been recognized on the local, state and national levels for his commitment to advocacy and action, including the Distinguished Alumni Award (Education Foundation of Palm Beach County), Ebony Magazine’s Thirty Leaders of the Future Award, and the Pathfinders Award for Community Service, presented by the Palm Beach Post newspaper. In January 2020, he released his second book, "Still Invisible? Examining America's Black Male Crisis,” a gripping nonfiction narrative on the challenges facing Black men today. Since its release, “Still Invisible” has become an Amazon Bestseller and was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Additionally, the book has been nominated for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction and U.S. History, the American Book Award, the Carter G. Woodson Book Award, the Florida Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Book Award for General Nonfiction among others.
Leadership Award - Organization
The Emanuel Jackson Sr. Project is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to build and empower future leaders. The organization was founded in 2016 by Emanuel “Dupree'' Jackson, Jr. His desire to make a difference in his community inspired him to create an organization that gave power back to the youth.
Jackson dedicated the organization to his late father and honored him by naming the organization after him. The EJS Project’s mission is rooted in its desire to see every teen succeed, regardless of their zip code. Coming from the very same vulnerable footprint of Delray Beach, Jackson pushed past all the obstacles life brought forth to achieve his goals. The EJS Project believes that if it focuses on youth’s strengths and power this helps them write their own narrative. It also believes that teens deserve equity of opportunity and that strong supportive relationships promote change in individuals, organizations and systems. The EJS Project acknowledges racial discrimination and the barriers it has created in communities of color. It is dedicated to teaching truth, challenging systems, and fighting for its youth’s access to opportunity. It aims to surround youth with as many positive and forward-thinking adults as possible.