LEESBURG, Fla. - A scholarship honoring the memory of the Groveland Four will help a local high school student pursue his dreams of going to college.
Leesburg High School graduate Dencov Bryant II is the first recipient of the Shephard Memorial Rights Scholarship. He joined Good Day Orlando on Monday to talk about what it means to him.
"It is such a tremendous opportunity to not only win this scholarship but also to be the first recipient in Lake County and the state of Florida to win the scholarship," he said. "It's been done in other places by the Robinson House Foundation. This is the first time actually doing it in Lake County where the Groveland Four incident happened, so it's just a tremendous honor.
Dencov told FOX 35 news that he knew the story of the Groveland Four, but not as in depth as he thought. He says as a man of color, his dad has always taught him to know your history and that you have to know where you've come from to know where you're going.
"As a man of color, it is a little bit harder to succeed in the world and the scholarship is just one more tool on my path to success. And for that, I'm just so grateful."
In 1949, segregationist and Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall used a rape allegation that was riddled with holes to round up four African American men in the town of Groveland: Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas.
Thomas was shot and killed by the sheriff’s posse while the other three were arrested and beaten to force confessions and found guilty. Two were granted a re-trial but were shot by Sheriff McCall as he claimed that the two handcuffed men tried to flee while being transported to the new trial. One of them died while the other was seriously injured.
Long after the four men’s deaths, in 2017, the Florida Legislature issued a posthumous apology. Years later, the governor and state cabinet pardoned the men known as the Groveland Four.
Dencov says while he loves Lake County, he has faced difficulties as a Black man while growing up in Leesburg.
"Sometimes I'd be walking through a store and kind of get a sideways glance or something. I like to think that I've not only not made race a barrier in my life to success, but I've just overcome whatever obstacles that were there."
Dencov says he just finished serving as the student body president of Leesburg and also as the student advisor to the Lake County School Board and the superintendent. He says he owes a lot of his success to the sacrifices made by those who came before him.
"I've had my own share of challenges and trials. But those who have come before me made it so much easier for me and others like me to succeed."
He says he plans to attend the University of South Florida in the fall and hopes to pursue a career in government.
"There's no higher calling than service and serving others, and that's what I want to do with the rest of my life."
As for those facing difficulties in their own lives, Dencov has a word of advice.
"You miss 100% of the shots that you don't take."