JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When President Donald Trump addressed Congress and the country Tuesday night, he highlighted a woman with ties to Jacksonville.
The program referenced was called the Step Up for Students Scholarship. Nine years ago, the program was designed to point Florida students toward the bright future that often comes from a first-rate education.
"Joining us tonight in the gallery is a remarkable woman, Denisha Merriweather," President Trump said. "As a young girl, Denisha struggled in school and failed third grade twice."
Trump told the story in his speech Tuesday night of Merriweather who, in 2008, was a girl in need.
"But then she was able to enroll in a private center for learning, a great learning center, with the help of a tax credit and its scholarship program," Trump said.
Merriweather has spoken to News4Jax several times in the past few years, sharing her story.
"It really changed when I came and lived with my godmother, and she wanted to find an environment that would help me," Merriweather said in a previous interview.
Having the president of the United States of America share the story brought goosebumps to a pastor and founder of the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning.
"She came in and she was a little Trojan. She was giving it everything she had and started making As and Bs, gave it her very best. She was determined and she wanted to go to school. And she wanted to be something and that I was so shocked and I was impressed with that," Jeannette Holmes-Vann said. "So we did everything that we could to try and help her. She kept up with the students that she started out with and they all graduated together."
"That’s when my life really took a turn, and the school was the best fit for me. My grades started increasing, I was motivated to learn," Merriweather said in a previous interview. "The school is structured about: Excellence is the norm."
Speaking to a national audience, Trump said, "Today, she is the first in her family to graduate, not just from high school, but from college. Later this year, she will get her master's degree in social work. We want all children to be able to break the cycle of poverty, just like Denisha."
Merriweather is staying in Florida to pursue her master's degree. She's now at USF in Tampa after getting her bachelor's at the University of West Florida.
Trump invited Merriweather because she benefited from school choice. He is proposing $20 billion in federal funds to low-income students, allowing them to attend private schools of their choice.