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This Black History Month, kids at AdventHealth for Children’s West Lakes Early Learning Center honored historical Black figures — from the first Black astronauts and legendary athletes to famous inventors and civil rights leaders.
“Teaching Black history and being able to extend that to our families and children is a wonderful experience,” said Center Director Alfreda Clark. “This is the third year we’ve held the Black History Heroes parade and children have come dressed to the nines, expressing what Black history means to them.”
Some dressed as Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Black Panthers, Serena Williams, Michael Jackson, Jackie Robinson and citizens of Marvel’s fictional African nation Wakanda. Others wore Kente cloth head wraps and robes, honoring the traditional multicolored textile once worn by African royalty.
Even the youngest children were included in the parade. A six-seater stroller was retrofitted as the Space Shuttle that carried some of the first Black astronauts. And a crib held little ones dressed as mathematicians Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson whose work was vital to some of NASA’s early missions.
“It feels like a dream to see children being able to walk and be celebrated, as they celebrate the heritage that they stand on in this magnificent place,” said Eddy Moratin, president of Lift Orlando, which partnered with AdventHealth to open the West Lakes ELC in 2020.
Residents from the community who’ve led the charge to invest in West Lakes also curated a small exhibit to teach children about the people who made Black history: Ida B. Wells, Emmett Till, Toni Morrison, Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Jackson, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Madam C. J. Walker, Clarence Thomas and Barack Obama, to name a few.
“We want to always remember the heritage that we brought to this community,” said Margaret Hill, a resident from the Rock Lake neighborhood in West Lakes who attended one of Florida’s first integrated elementary schools.
Joining Hill was Tracy Anderson, who has lived in the Lake Sunset/Luola Terrance neighborhood in West Lakes since she was 7 years old.
“Each one of these neighborhoods has people who are either founders, or the second or third generation. And that's something we're very proud of,” Anderson said. “And we are very interested in the progress that happens here.”
The West Lakes ELC, which was recently featured on News 6, is a collaboration with Lift Orlando, Primrose Schools, the Bainum Family Foundation and AdventHealth Foundation Central Florida. The center is part of a multipronged effort led by the nonprofit Lift Orlando — bringing together government, the private sector and nonprofits — to drive investments that strengthen the historic community around Camping World Stadium. AdventHealth was among the founders of Lift in 2012 and has been a proud supporter of its efforts ever since.
Serving children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, the center is the intersection of high-quality early childhood education, on-site pediatrics, and comprehensive social services and enrichment activities, such as gardening, soccer and tennis, STEM and literacy programs.
Kevin and Casey Williams, whose roots date back 80 years in the West Lakes community, have three children — Kaitlyn, 4, Kevin Jr., 2, and Kyle, 5 months — enrolled at the center. Their home has been handed down through three generations.
They said they’re grateful to be a part of the West Lakes community and have the opportunity to send their children to a first-of-its-kind facility just a few blocks from home.
“You want to make sure that wherever your kids go that they are safe and appreciated and treated like a person. And that’s exactly what we get here,” Casey Williams said. “The staff knows my kids by name and my kids know them by name, and when they see them, they hug on them and love on them. It just does something for my heart to see that, so I wouldn’t see them going anywhere else but here.”
To learn more about AdventHealth for Children's West Lakes Early Learning Center, visit West Lakes Early Learning Center | AdventHealth.