Johnathan is an HVAC student at FCC Hialeah who submitted a compelling essay for the Be The Change scholarship

Hialeah HVAC Student Honored For ‘Be The Change’ Essay

Jonathan Pierre felt powerless. As police officers searched his vehicle, Jonathan said he just wanted answers, but none were forthcoming.

Less than an hour earlier, a low tire was causing his car to shimmy, so he pulled over in the Miami Shore area to fill it using an air pressure pump he kept in his trunk. Once he was back on the road, he noticed he was being followed by what he assumed was a patrol car, a suspicion that was confirmed when he got home.

“When I got home and I got out of the car, the cops had pulled in behind me with their lights on,” Jonathan said. “They questioned me, and then they started searching my vehicle for no reason.”

The officers found none of the weapons or drugs Jonathan assumed they were looking for, and they eventually left.

The moment left such an impact on him, however – especially within the shadow cast by such notorious incidents as those involving George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – that he shared his story as part of an essay submission for this year’s Florida Career College (FCC) Be the Change Scholarship.

The essay, within which the 19-year-old Haitian-American told of a second incident of social injustice he and his brothers experienced, earned Jonathan runner-up honors for the scholarship. This netted him $500 toward tuition as he strives toward earning diploma by completing the HVAC Program at FCC in Hialeah.

“I feel like I just wanted my voice to be heard,” he said of the nearly 1,200-word scholarship essay. “I know there’s a lot of stuff going on right now, especially with what we went through last year with the George Floyd incident. I want everyone to know it’s not just one person affected. It’s a lot of people being affected out there. I just happen to be one of those people.”

Being the Change by Finding Empowerment

Be the Change is a scholarship created to give FCC students a voice in the discussion of social justice, equality, human rights and community change. All applicants were required to write and submit a personal essay related to these themes.

Jonathan’s essay focused on two incidents in his adult life where he felt powerless and was treated unfairly based on his race and ethnicity. Such challenges, he said, began when he was just a kid.

“As a Black child, growing up was hard,” he wrote. “But, being Haitian made it harder. I used to be ashamed to go to school because kids would make fun of my cultural background. I would go home after school crying [and] telling my parents I can’t go back to school. However, I saw the sacrifices they made for me to have a better life and future.”

As he got older, Jonathan made it his mission to return the favor. He already helps his aging parents by running errands, paying their bills, driving them to doctor’s appointments, and so on. And, despite a desire that he go earn his bachelor’s degree, Jonathan said he’s put that on hold. Instead, he plans to become an expert in the HVAC trade and eventually start his own business.

It’s his way of being empowered – not only for himself, but for his family.

“At the end of the day, I just want to provide for my family,” he said. “Seeing what my parents did for me, I had to do something in return. I’m a family person. I want to make sure everybody is good, and then I’ll take care of myself at the end of the day.”

“Congratulations to Johnathan for being named a finalist and runner-up for the Be the Change Scholarship,” said Hialeah Executive Director Charles Castillo. “He is a deserving student who has worked hard at FCC, and we are proud to have him here.”

Studying HVAC at an Early Age

Jonathan has a cousin who runs an HVAC company. Starting at the age of 12, Jonathan would spend his summers at that cousin’s place up in Kissimmee, FL – just outside of Orlando – and help him with some of the work.

He did this for about five summers before he began to realize the value of what he was learning.

“I was 17 when I first started seeing [HVAC] as a profession,” he said. “My cousin told me, ‘Why don’t you come over here and start working for me?’ But I said I have so much going on down in Miami that I don’t want to leave behind.”

That included his parents – a retired dad and a mom who doesn’t speak English very well – and a brother who is deaf in one ear, which Jonathan said affects his work and earning potential.

“I didn’t want to just leave because then they’d have no one to help them,” Jonathan said. “So, I wanted to find another way to learn about AC and to be an HVAC technician.”

That’s when Jonathan decided to enroll in the HVAC program at FCC’s Hialeah campus.

As a self-described hands-on learner, Jonathan admits to struggling with FCC’s HVAC program at first, mostly due to the fact that the program was front-loaded with classroom-based courses on refrigeration theory and electricity basics. That soon changed.

Refusing to Give Up on Himself

“By the third month, though, we started doing more hands-on, and I started enjoying it more,” he said. “That’s when I started to gain more knowledge and experience with AC, electricity … and now we’re doing ductwork. I’m starting to gain more and more knowledge every day.”

Jonathan said HVAC instructor Daniel Cueto helped him through the more theory-based courses, while he felt he came into his own during the more hands-on classes taught by instructor George Davis.

“When he first started, Johnathan was a little intimidated about school, but I could tell he had a genuine desire to improve his life through education,” Daniel said. “I told him that if he sticks with it and sees it through, he will do great. I believe in him, and I know he will be a great HVAC technician. It is a pleasure to have had him for a student.”

Once he finishes his classes, Jonathan says he looks forward to becoming a sponge within the HVAC field, soaking up as much knowledge and as many skills as he can so that he could one day go independent.

“I plan to start things slow and work for a company to gain more experience,” he said of his after-graduation plans. “Within three or four years, though, I want to start off with my own business. But, I first need to start out gaining more experience in the field.”

Until then, he said he still remains surprised that he was named runner-up for this year’s FCC Be the Change scholarship.

“I’m just in shock right now,” he said. “I didn’t think I would actually make it to the finalists. I didn’t know I would win, but I wasn’t giving up on myself.”