How can Lorenzo Hamilton be so sure — "99.9 percent sure," he said — that Howard Blount was the first black kid from Brooksville to go on to become a medical doctor?
For starters, Hamilton said, Hernando County's African-American community was small and insular. For decades, all of its high school graduates came out of segregated Moton School, making their progress easy to track.
Also, the most common post-Moton destinations for boys were rock mines and orange groves. Few kids thought about college. If they dreamed about medical school, they probably would have been dismissed as dreamers only.
"I never saw a black medical doctor and never thought of it as a possibility," said Imani Asukile, an administrator at Pasco-Hernando Community College and a 1972 graduate of Hernando High School.
So Blount, 56, who was honored for his accomplishments at a Black History Month banquet Saturday night at Kennedy Park, offers this history lesson: His career would have been just about impossible for students in Brooksville who came along before he did.
He graduated from Hernando two years after Asukile, meaning he attended a desegregated middle and high school. He had access to newer textbooks and better lab equipment than students had at Moton. He was surrounded by more kids who expected to go to college.
His accomplishments — attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., and receiving his medical degree from the University of South Florida — wouldn't have been so unusual if they were easy.
But classwork didn't seem so hard when compared to just getting by in Brooksville.
Blount, an obstetrician and gynecologist who has practiced most of his career in Orlando, was raised by a single mother, Mary Ann Blount, who still lives in Hernando. He remembers following her into the groves when he was 8 or 9 and telling her he was going to get a better job, "an air-conditioned job," he said.
A few years later, he watched his grandfather, Alfred Blount, who had helped raise him, die in his mid 50s. "He had developed cancer, but in his mind it was because of how hard he had worked," Blount said. "He said, 'Son, don't do that to yourself. Get a good job and don't work so hard.'
"My thing was to get out of the situation I was in, the poverty," he said; he wasn't running after a dream so much as he "was being chased from behind."
Hamilton, a retired school administrator, helped Blount out of that life, and not just by telling him he could be a doctor. "He was the one who put that idea in my head," Blount said.
Hamilton had formed the Kennedy Park Little League, in which Blount played as a young boy, and the Kennedy Youth Club, which Blount said helped him cope with attending mostly white schools.
If a kid needed money to go on a trip with the band, the club would find it. If one boy wanted to play on the school baseball team, another club member would make sure he didn't have to try out alone.
The idea, Hamilton said, was to leave students this message:
If integration created many trials, it brought even more opportunities. Club members could do things their parents couldn't imagine. If they had talent and drive, they could even make history.