Living the legacy

King Commission to honor homeless advocate, top student who gives of her time

Eastside High School student Jennifer Kizza will receive the 2012 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award.

SARAH KIEWEL/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 5:38 p.m.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida Inc. will honor an advocate of the homeless in Alachua County and an Eastside High School senior at its annual Hall of Fame Banquet.

Recognized will be homeless advocate Frances "Pat" Fitzpatrick as the 2012 Hall of Fame honoree and Jennifer Kizza, a senior at Eastside High School, as the 2012 Edna M. Hart Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Award recipient during the 27th annual banquet that will take place at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Paramount Plaza Hotel.

Fitzpatrick's name will be enshrined at the Hall of Fame kiosk at the King Memorial Gardens in downtown Gainesville at 10:30 a.m. Monday and Jennifer, who will give a speech at noon Monday at the Bo Diddley Community Plaza to kick off the King national holiday activities, will be awarded a scholarship for an amount that will be determined at a later date. Rodney Long, founder and president of the King Commission, said last year's scholarship recipient received $7,500. Both also will receive plaques at the banquet.

Fitzpatrick, 62, is a staunch advocate of the homeless in Gainesville. In 2002, he was one of the founding members of the Home Van, a mobile soup kitchen that helps to feed and provide clothing to the homeless throughout Alachua County. He is a devout Catholic and a Secular Franciscan.

"I follow the teachings of St. Francis and I live and work with the poor," said Fitzpatrick. St. Francis of Assisi, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who lived 800 years ago, was an Italian Catholic preacher who chose to live in poverty. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Fitzpatrick was one of the fiercest opponents against a Gainesville ordinance that limited soup kitchens to serve 130 meals a day. Some of his antics aimed at convincing the City Commission to rescind the ordinance, which it did in October, included protesting with signs in front of City Hall, cursing at commissioners during meetings — where he was thrown out about 30 times — and running for the District 4 City Commission seat in March 2010. He only received 4.32 percent of the votes in that race.

Fitzpatrick graduated from Florida Technological University (now known as the University of Central Florida) in Orlando in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in history. He also earned a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling in 1982 from the University of Florida. He is divorced and has two children, Daniel Fitzpatrick, 27, and Katie Fitzpatrick, 22.

Arupa Freeman, also a founding member of the Home Van and the 2009 King Hall of Fame honoree, said Fitzpatrick is a true servant. She said she has known him since the mid-1990s when he was on the board of directors at the St. Francis House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in downtown Gainesville.

Freeman said unlike other board members, who only came to the St. Francis House for meetings, Fitzpatrick often stopped by to spend time and talk to the people. She said he is one of the most caring people she knows and he has a "heart the size of Rhode Island." She said when the Home Van receives calls about people who are in need, it is Fitzpatrick who takes care of the problem.

"Pat is never too busy to go out and do something for somebody," Freeman said.

Jennifer, 17, hopes her academic prowess and her list of accomplishments lands her acceptance in the fall into Stanford University in California, where she plans to major in human biology/pre-med. She wants to be a pediatric oncologist.

Jennifer was named the 2011 Alachua County Sunshine State Scholar, a designation made each year in each school district in Florida to a high school junior who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in math and science.

She also was named a semifinalist in the National Achievement Scholarship Program, which recognizes black students who score in the top 1 percent on the Preliminary SAT, which measures critical reading, math problem-solving and writing skills.

She currently has a 4.0 unweighted GPA and a 5.0 weighted GPA in the International Baccalaureate, or IB, program at Eastside. The program demands academic excellence and involvement with extracurricular activities.

Jennifer has been a captain of the Eastside soccer team for two years and is the current Student Government Student Body president. She also is vice president of the Breast Cancer Awareness Club and a member of Students Together for Autism Research.

She said her parents, Peter and Rosie Kizza, are her inspiration to excel in everything she does and she gives credit to all of the teachers she has had throughout the years for nurturing her curiosity to learn.

She said being chosen the recipient of the scholarship is very humbling and she is still in the process of preparing the speech she is going to make during the King Celebration kick-off program.

Jennifer said although she has not completed writing her speech, she knows what her topic will be.

"The big thing for me is remembering what we as African Americans have had to go through to get to where we are today and what we must continue to do to make our community even better," she said.

Peter Kizza said he is extremely proud of his daughter and her achievements.

"Being a parent, sometimes you think your kid is exceptional even when they are not, but Jennifer is very exceptional," he said. "She is very smart and very hard working. She also knows how to prioritize her school work and other activities very well. She has a lot of gifts and talents and she takes advantage of them."

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