LEESBURG, Fla. – One high school graduate is making history before heading to college in the fall by being the first recipient of a scholarship honoring a member of a historic civil rights case.
Dencov Bryant from Leesburg High School is the inaugural recipient of the Samuel Shepard Memorial Rights Scholarship.
“I’m on top of the world. It’s been an incredible journey,” Bryant said.
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The scholarship honors Samuel Shepard, who — alongside three others — was wrongly accused of raping a white woman back in 1949.
The group of men, later known as the “Groveland Four,” were exonerated two years ago after previously being posthumously pardoned.
Shepard’s family now leads the Robinson House Foundation, which established the scholarship to go to a graduating Lake County student showing interest in law and government.
Bryant said being presented the scholarship came as a shock.
“I didn’t know that I won the scholarship until our annual senior awards, which is when scholarships are given out. I was actually sitting there; I was just checking a text from a friend who was late, and they called my name, and I was like: ‘What, wait, I won?’” Bryant said.
Bryant said he and his siblings were taught about the Groveland Four, which led him to apply.
He hopes this scholarship proves Lake County is moving forward
“It’s humbling, and it’s just an honor that I was the one chosen to not only receive this scholarship but to also take that piece of the past and bring forward into my future,” Bryant said.
Bryant served as both Leesburg High’s class president as well as the county’s superintendent student advisor.
As he reflected on his senior year, he smiled, saying a memorable moment was walking across the graduation stage twice: once in the rain and the next indoors as his school did a redo of graduation.
“No, it was not perfect. It was not everything we exactly wanted to be, but then again, neither is life.. when life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade,” he said.
The fresh high school graduate left this word of advice for those to follow in his footsteps:
“Make the most of every single moment and every single opportunity that you’re given... when you get to senior year, enjoy it, yes, but work hard,” he said.
Bryant is set to attend the University of South Florida in the fall, majoring in communications because he said it will lay the groundwork to observe different avenues of work in government.
He hopes to lay a strong foundation in that field before running for office, whether it be local, state, or national.