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IT'S IN HER BLOOD TO GIVE HOPE TO OTHERS

Long before he became chief judge for Florida's 18th Judicial Circuit in Seminole County, E.C. Perry worked as an attorney in Central Florida.

His daughter Kamilah began helping in the office as soon as she was old enough to write, but she quickly came to realize her father's practice had as much to do with community as it did billable hours.

"I always saw people in the community come to him for help and come to him for advice, and they were so supportive of him," explained Kamilah, whose mother, Adrienne, a former mayor of Longwood, also set a positive example.

"He gave them the support they needed, and the people supported him."

And so it goes. Lessons that went beyond legal briefs have helped shape Kamilah's outlook and driven her to extend the family tradition.

Today, she joins nearly 40 kids to kick off the Tampa Bay Academy of Hope's third annual college tour. The four-day trip will take inner-city youth to the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Florida A&M University and, locally, the University of South Florida and University of Tampa.

Kamilah, who now lives in Tampa, stepped up to help the academy and executive director James Evans because, simply put, it's what she does.

At 30, she is now a commercial litigator for Phelps Dunbar. When she found a void in Tampa's social scene for urban professionals, Kamilah partnered with a group of other women and started the Six Footahs, an organization that has invigorated the community through various networking events.

And now that she sees a group of students who need a hand in seeing college as a real possibility, Kamilah has stepped up again.

"I hate to sound cliched, but I really do feel like to whom much is given, much is expected," Kamilah said. "I'm not sure what drives me, but I know that I enjoy it, and I have the ability to do a lot of things. I've been blessed with so many resources."

As far as the college tour, MapQuest can estimate the distance the kids will travel, but the best measure comes in impact, not miles. Jamie Gatheright, 14, constantly cares for mother Kathleen, who battles diabetes and other debilitating illnesses. Her mother wants the best for her honor student, but she doesn't have the resources.

"It is my hope that she will be repaid in life with all things she has offered me by going to college," Kathleen Gatheright said of her daughter.

Most of the kids have similar stories about higher education being unattainable. With the academy having already helped 37 kids get into college, the trip delivers kids to campuses and dreams to reality.

"I know a lot of them have never been outside their immediate communities," Kamilah said. "But the academy is striving to select students who have demonstrated a true desire to succeed.

"It's good to help students who want to be helped."

Trips usually consume fuel, but this one will power a positive vision for kids who once saw college only as a fantasy. And along the way, I'm sure Kamilah Perry will find a source of energy for herself.

That's all I'm saying.

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