AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week: Florida Memorial University

Guided by principle

Khalia (Jelks) Williams graduated from FMU in 2001 with a BS in Business Administration. She is currently a Ph.D candidate at Graduate Theological Union studying theology and worship. She works as an adjunct professor in worship at Columbia Theological Seminary.


Florida Memorial University, South Florida’s only historically black college and university, is a diamond tucked away in the tropical oasis of Miami Gardens.

Founded and built upon the principles of leadership, character, and service, this jewel of a school has been educating students since 1879.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, it was really a coincidence … or I now realize to be divine providence that I went to Florida Memorial. With plans to be a professional dancer in New York, I found myself changing my mind late in my senior year in high school and decided that I needed to study business before pursuing a career in dance performance. Through connections of family friends, I learned about Florida Memorial, applied, was accepted, and enrolled in the fall of 1997. Upon my arrival to the campus, I knew that I could not have been in any other place.

khalia_jelks_williams2Before leaving FMU, Khalia (Jelks) Williams reigned over it as Miss Florida Memorial from 2000-2001. During her 2000 coronation, she was crowned by the university’s late President Albert E. Smith.

The school provided me professors that were leaders in their field, and also cared about the students. I had great mentors from faculty and staff. Being 3,000 miles away from home, I never felt alone because my FMU family always made me feel connected. It is safe to say that I received a great education and strong relationships; some that will last a lifetime.

Leadership. During my tenure at FMU, I was taught the tenets of leadership; and was shaped to succeed in business, ministry, and life as a whole.

I had the wonderful opportunity to serve the FMU community as Miss Sophomore (1998-1999), Miss Junior (1999-2000), Miss Florida Memorial (2000-2001), Miss Black & Gold (2000-2001).

And I was a founding member of the Delta Mu Delta Honors Society. In each capacity, FMU shaped me, empowered me, molded me, and supported me to be my absolute best. I learned to excel academically while being an ambassador for the community, and serving beyond the grounds of our campus.

Character. FMU taught me about integrity in leadership, professional character, and pride in being an African American woman. It was here that I was nurtured, challenged, pushed to be better, and reminded to stand firm on my beliefs, hold true to my spiritual foundation, and to never allow others change who God created me to be. Even to this day, I hear the voices of prominent professors and mentors as I journey through my career, reminding me to be “true to who I have been created to be.”

Service. Needless to say, serving the community was not only a lesson taught to me as a student, but also a very real part of my life as a student at FMU. From serving those in need on the campus to at risk youth in local schools, it was a mandate to give back to all who were in need. Never taking my experience for granted, I still hold true to the very real call to serve. This call is extremely present in my life as I serve as an ordained minister, have worked with youth in communities teaching dance, and continue to recognize that God has blessed me to be blessing to others.

As I continue to grow in life, I carry with me close to my heart the academic treasure, relational wealth, and valuable lessons learned. Even today, there is the resounding melody of our alma mater refrain:

Florida Memorial, Florida Memorial

How we love to sing thy praise;

We’ll be loyal, every loyal,

And to thee our voices raise.

Indeed I will be loyal, ever loyal, because this gem of a school found and honed the treasures of greatness in me.

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