CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Celebrating Black History Month has taken on a new meaning for Clay County's newly elected sheriff.
Sheriff Darryl Daniels made history of his own when he took office last month by becoming Clay County's first African-American sheriff.
As Daniels walked through the Chestwood Oaks neighborhood in Orange Park during Friday's community walk, he told News4Jax what it means to be the first African-American elected sheriff in Clay County. He said it hasn't sunk in yet.
"I'm sure somebody somewhere is saying, 'Hey, this is a milestone for race relations in Clay County,' but I just see myself as another resident who has taken political office in a profession he has come up in half his life," Daniels said.
It's a life that began in Miami where he was born and raised. After high school, Daniels enlisted in the Navy, where he said he learned self-discipline and a strong work ethic. He used those tools to become a police officer.
After more than two decades of working up the ranks in law enforcement, he ran to become sheriff of Clay County.
News4Jax asked what it was like to realize his hard work had paid off.
"So you do all this competitive campaigning and you're vying for this top seat, and when you get it, you go, 'Oh my goodness. I won. Now what?' Now what's next, and then you really have to lay out your strategy on how you're going to change things for the positive," Daniels said.
Daniels said he's not blind to the struggle felt by many young inner-city African-Americans who feel they have no hope of improving their lives, but he offers advice.
"Always stay hungry. Stay hungry to improve. Apply yourself to improve and good things will happen," Daniels said.
But it takes more than just the hunger to improve.
"Surround yourself with positive people. Get away from situations that pull you into the wrong direction," Daniels said.
Daniels is also a parent. He said he understands the frustration of many African-American parents who are struggling to keep their kids from going down the wrong path.
"Never give up on your kids. Pray for your kids and seek out anyone who would be a good role model," Daniels said. "Take advantage of resources out there and expose them to opportunities that will keep their minds busy and their bodies busy."
One of the things that really stands out about Daniels is that he looks forward to knowing the people he serves, and that's why he conducts monthly neighborhood walks.