2023 Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award Winners
"When Standing Up Matters"
Leadership Award - Alumni
Bernard A. Harrigan
Bernard Harrigan is an environmental justice and social change major at Florida Atlantic University's Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. He is passionate about using diplomacy to engage Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities in climate change action plans. Harrigan was named a 2022 Udall Scholar for his work in conservation issues, and he was selected as a Leon Charney Diplomacy Research Fellow and received Outstanding Delegate recognition at the National Model United Nations. At the NMUN, his Chinese aquaculture and sustainable food systems policies aided his team to achieve first place twice in one academic year—a NMUN first.
Harrigan earned his Associate in Arts degree from Palm Beach State College in spring 2021. He was an active member of the campus community at Palm Beach State. He served as vice president of Community Earth, president pro tempore of the Palm Beach Gardens campus SGA, represented students on the College Affordability Task Force and QEP Development Team and provided guidance through the Inter Club Council. Harrigan was a student in the Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors College and a member of Phi Theta Kappa. As a disabled veteran, Bernard has interned with local constituencies to use the power of cultural expression to empower communities impacted by environmental injustice. His goal is to work in the Environmental Justice field as a community change agent to mitigate climate change resiliency and to seek environmentally focused funding through state and federal grant programs for the BIPOC community in South Florida.
Leadership Award - Student
Jacqueline Pecker is a student in the Dr. Floyd F. Koch Honors College who credits Palm Beach State College’s leadership opportunities for paving her road to recovery from mental illness. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she experienced the debilitating effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which forced her to withdraw from college. Determined to succeed, she met with a therapist who later helped her discover PBSC.
Pecker strives to give back to her community through leadership and service. She said PBSC lifted her back up, so she wants to do the same for others.
As Phi Theta Kappa chapter president at the Boca Raton campus, she piloted the “Let's Press ‘Paws’” initiative, which promotes mental health awareness at PBSC by providing safe spaces for students to “press pause” on life's demands with on-campus monthly therapeutic activities.
Pecker is a writing tutor at the Student Learning Center. She volunteers at monthly beach cleanups and as a speaker at PBSC events, where she shares her story to motivate others.
Last year, she was a member of PBSC’s inaugural cohort of the Kimmel Leadership Academy and among the nationwide recipients of the Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholarship. She served as the co-host of PBSC’S U.S. Senate Debate Student Watch Party and was interviewed by WPBF 25 News on the importance of voting.
Pecker will graduate with her Associate in Arts degree in May and transfer to a university to complete her bachelor’s degree with a goal of working in media production at NBC Studios.
Leadership Award - Faculty/Staff
Eliana Mukherjee, Ph.D.
Professor Eliana Mukherjee, Ph.D., has offered training on culturally responsive pedagogy through workshops offered by Palm Beach State College’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. She was also a facilitator for the 2021 and 2022 Summer Institutes. Her work has impacted numerous faculty over the years and led to curriculum and assessment redesign to help bridge the completion and retention gaps, particularly among students of color, low-income, and first-generation college students.
Eliana Mukherjee has over 25 years of experience in all aspects of education, including teaching, administration, research, planning, curriculum development and teacher training. Mukherjee is a professor of teacher education and is department chair for EAP, College Readiness English, Student Life Skills and Education at PBSC’s Palm Beach Gardens campus. Prior to PBSC, she was the director of the American International School of Costa Rica for two years, and she taught elementary school in the United States for five years. She has worked on research projects for the World Bank on school improvement and for Harvard University on early language and literacy development. She worked for six years as an assistant professor in the Peace Education master’s program at the United Nations mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. Additionally, she worked as a consultant for UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education in developing guidelines for curriculum development in Angola. Mukherjee earned her bachelor’s in mass communications from Emerson College, master’s in education from Harvard University and doctorate in curriculum, culture, and educational inquiry from Florida Atlantic University. Additionally, she has a Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia from the University of Florida, where she also teaches as an adjunct.
Kalisha Waldon, Ph.D.
Professor Kalisha A. Waldon, Ph.D., has offered training on culturally responsive pedagogy through workshops offered by Palm Beach State College’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. She was also a facilitator for the 2021 and 2022 Summer Institutes. Her work has impacted numerous faculty over the years and led to curriculum and assessment redesign to help bridge the completion and retention gaps, particularly among students of color, low-income and first-generation college students.
Waldon earned her doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction and master’s degree in reading K-12 education from Florida Atlantic University and a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Oakwood University. She was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Dissertation of the Year for her study, “Black Adolescents’ Critical Encounters with Media and the Counteracting Possibilities of Critical Media Literacy.” Her scholarship centers on effectively supporting the diverse needs of marginalized student populations. Her most recent research was on the persistence factors that impact the success of Black male students’ completion rate at PBSC. Waldon has been an educator and administrator in the K-20 system for over 20 years. Under her leadership as principal of a private school, with over 50% low-income families, the school was given proclamations by former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness and the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and declared a School of Excellence by the private school district and regional organization. She currently teaches in the Education and Student Life Skills departments and serves as the department chair for Education, Psychology, and Sociology on the Boca Raton campus. Waldon is committed to using her expertise to nurture the brilliance of her students and empower colleagues to foster equitable student learning experiences. Beyond the college, Waldon builds the capacity of K-12 educators through professional development and coaching in evidence-based, equity-minded teaching strategies. She also plays an integral role in developing curriculum for several college and educational organizations (i.e., Dan Marino Foundation, Kimmel Leadership Academy, Educational Equity Partnership Project (EEPP)- Florida Atlantic University in Partnership with Broward County School District).
Leadership Award - Individual
Rev. J.R. Thicklin, D.Div.
The Rev. J.R. Thicklin, D.Div., is the lead servant and influencer of Transforming Grace Ministries and president & CEO of Destiny by Choice, where he is empowering lives and shaping destinies of those impacted by domestic and sexual violence, fatherlessness, and other social and health determinants. Born and raised in the historic city of Selma, Ala., he has brought to his ministry a unique combination of fervency and humility for 38 years.
Thicklin’s efforts and programs begin early in the lives of young men. His program Destiny Changers: Raising Boys to Men is focused on boys ages 10-19 and addresses key areas of self-identity, responsibility, purpose, service and vision. The program is guided by the words of Frederick Douglas: “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
He has worked with the Safe Return Domestic Violence Program to help incarcerated men within reentry correctional facilities transform their lives with a focus on purpose, manhood, and fatherhood. He’s passionate about his social justice work in dismantling racism and the role of clergy.
Thicklin serves as the current president of the Palm Beach County Clergy Alliance and lead director of the African American Domestic Peace Project in West Palm Beach. He is the co-author of "Speaking of Faith: Domestic Violence Programs in the African American Church." In addition, he has developed The Clergy Toolkit on Domestic & Sexual Violence in his collaboration with the Palm Beach County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART).
Leadership Award - Organization
Women of Tomorrow Mentor and Scholarship Program
Founded in 1997 by television journalist and author Jennifer Valoppi and Don Browne, former president of Telemundo Communications Group, Inc. and former president and general manager of WTVJ, the Women of Tomorrow Mentor & Scholarship Program (WOT) inspires and motivates at-risk girls to live up to their full potential through small group mentoring by highly accomplished professional women and empowering mentees to achieve their dreams through scholarship opportunities for higher education.
WOT currently mentors more than 4,000 primarily minority students in 160 public high schools in South Florida and Metro Detroit, in partnership with public school systems. WOT effectively addresses the needs of students identified by the public schools as most at risk of dropping out of high school. WOT mentees have a 96% high school graduation rate, and 88% of graduates have plans to enroll in higher education. Over $8.3 million in college scholarships have been awarded by WOT. More than half of WOT mentees identify as African American/Black; an additional 10% identify as multi¬racial and, in South Florida, one third of mentees identify as Hispanic/Latina. The remainder of students identify as white, Asian, Indian and Arabic. WOT mentors reflect the racial diversity of its students.
Through WOT's approach of inclusion, teaching core competencies and focusing on pathways out of poverty, students are equipped to enter the workforce with the practical skills they need to succeed. The Creating a Life Plan curriculum and the pledge taken by the students ensures racial equality, connectedness, and nurtures an emotional understanding of each other's life challenges. WOT's small group mentoring model enables the students to not only learn from their mentors and school coordinators but teaches them to support and empower each other.