The official opening of Gilmore Academy and the Jackson County Training Center Youth Development Center is scheduled for May 21.
The date was not chosen at random. It falls the day after May Day, Armed Forces Day and the 100th anniversary of Gilmore Academy.
While the meaning of May Day changes depending on the culture and the country in which you live. In Florida, May 20, 1865 is of great significance. Two years and five months after Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation, Union Brigadier General Edward M. McCook traveled to Tallahassee to announce that black people were free citizens. Almost a month later, Texas followed suit on June 19. This became known as Juneteenth.
The third Saturday in May this year, May 21, is also Armed Forces Day. US Army SFC Buffalo Soldier and “Horseback” Will Barnes travels annually to display the colors in Montgomery, Birmingham and Mobile (on the Battle Ship). This year there is a party in Marianna.
Finally, Gilmore Academy celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Events have been scheduled at the Youth Center to commemorate Gilmore Academy and celebrate May Day, Armed Forces Day and the official opening of the Jackson County Training School Youth Development Center.
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The celebration will begin in the morning with the recognition of Armed Forces Day. All military branches will be represented, and each will be recognized. The guest speaker is Command Sergeant Major Carolina Johnson. Johnson was born and raised in Jackson County and is an alumnus of Marianna High School. For 33 years, she served active duty in the military.
The Buffalo Soldiers will display the colors on horseback and the role will be called. Military music will be played to recognize each branch of the military, along with the song “Some Gave All”. According to Snell, “The military slogan for the United States as a whole is ‘You can find no better friend or worse enemy’.”
Following the Armed Forces Day celebration, Gilmore Academy’s 100th anniversary festivities will begin with recognition of living alumni. There will be a tribute to Mr. John Taylor Gilmore for his efforts in establishing the school, and Mr. Cepheus Granberry will sing a solo. Next, Marianna City Manager Jim Dean will accompany the home students at the ribbon cutting on the steps of the gymnasium, known as “Panthers Den.” After the inauguration, there will be a time for sharing reflections, memories and stories. One successful Jackson County Training School alumnus is Roger Clay, who later taught at Marianna Middle School. Former City Commissioner/Mayor Clay is now a member of the Youth Center Board of Directors.
Lunch will be provided for those attending the Armed Forces Day and Gilmore Academy celebrations, which will consist of a country lunch with barbecue and dessert. Due to COVID concerns, with older adults in attendance, events before 2 p.m. are by invitation only.
At 2 p.m., the festivities open to the public. Complimentary hot dogs and buffalo dogs will be available. Snell explained that “on regular hot dogs you should look for the meat, but you should look for the bun on the buffalo dogs”.
The afternoon schedule includes the basketball championship game and trophy presentation. Championship teams in grades 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 will receive an award. The riding will take place between 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. An art exhibit by local artists will also be available for viewing, including work by Lynwood Tanner. Additionally, there will be military exhibits, some of which will feature the Buffalo Soldiers and women in the military. According to Barnes, “Jackson County has over 5,000 veterans, the most veterans of any county in Florida.” There will also be an exhibition for Cathey Williams. Williams disguised herself as a man to join the military. She was the first black woman to join and the only woman to serve in the military while disguised as a male soldier during the Indian Wars. She is the only female to serve in the infantry from 1866 to 1868, and she is the only female Buffalo Soldier in the military.
The riding will take place under the guidance of “Horseback” Will Barnes, who was born and raised in Marianna. Barnes attended and is another successful Jackson County Training School for a year. After the schools were integrated, Barnes attended Marianna Middle School and Marianna High School. At the age of 17, he left the region and joined the army. In 1999, Barnes retired and lived in Texas for a few years before moving back to Jackson County with his wife Dana to raise their twin daughters.
At Jagged Edge Horse Ranch, the couple raised about fourteen youngsters from single-parent families. Their children, Jared and Ashley, brought their friends home, who hung out, rode horses and worked on the farm at 4993 Route 162 in Greenwood. Barnes shared, “All of them went to college and became productive.” At the ranch, Barnes provides riding instruction.
Barnes also has a Buffalo Soldiers Museum on his ranch with military history for all the armed forces, which is free to the public. He explained, “It’s a lot of history.” He founded the Marianna Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers in 2006, and in 2014 he founded the North Florida Chapter, which covers the Pensacola to Jacksonville area. At the inauguration of the Youth Center, the Buffalo Soldiers will display colors on horseback.
Barnes has been teaching horseback riding to young people and adults for two decades on his ranch. A lunging ring will be set up with three horses for riding during the event. Kids can ride for $3 each or $2 each for a family of five riding. There will be people within the circle to help those in need of assistance and to keep the runners safe. Adults can ride too. All profits from horse riding on May 21, 2022 will be donated to the youth center.
The opening event will usher in the availability of after-school horseback riding at the youth center. Barnes works with Grady Snell and others to provide additional after-school programs. “Jackson County kids really have nothing to do in the summer,” Barnes added. “If they have something to do, it’s either so expensive or so far away that kids in the West End have no way of getting there.” He continued: “The majority of children are in single-parent homes where parents work and simply cannot transport them back and forth.” Not being able to participate eliminates many children. Barnes added: “We’re trying to do something to get the kids out of the house and away from their cellphones.” He explained how it takes the help of parents too. When young people come to the center, parents are involved. Barnes continued, “they can’t just drop their kids off and go, which is fine.” Horseback riding after school will be free.
Grady Snell is yet another success story. He graduated in 1968 from Jackson County Training School and was drafted. While serving, he sought college opportunities. Snell earned a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Criminal Justice and a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education. He worked as a certified teacher in Alabama while working as a state correctional officer counselor and emergency response officer. In 2006, Snell was honored for his innovative techniques to help inmates and their families. Snell was also involved with the Buffalo Soldiers for many years and was recently recognized as a Buffalo Soldier legend in three states (Alabama, Georgia and Florida).
Snell has a strong desire to give back to the community and help people get a second chance. A few years ago, Snell and others began developing after-school programs to help local youth succeed. Earlier this year, Gilmore Academy and Jackson County Training School Youth Center opened in the former gymnasium of Marianna Middle School to offer tutoring, cheering and calisthenics, basketball, training professional, etc. After May 25, horseback riding will be included in extracurricular activities. Respect and conflict resolution are taught. Alcohol, drugs and loitering in the parking lot are not permitted. Supervision is provided. All programs are free for youth across the city. No student will be left behind.
The Jackson County Training School Youth Center is funded by a nonprofit organization and operates through donations. Therefore, your donation matters regardless of its size. We have great people at Marianna, and what an amazing youth center! For more information on horseback riding, call “Horseback” Will Barnes at 850-209-1172. For more information about the art exhibit, call Lynwood Tanner at 850-633-7792. For general information or donations, call Grady Snell at 706-464-7445.