Florida

‘A lot of people didn’t make it out:’ Dozier School for Boys memorial set to be unveiled next Friday

MARIANNA, Fla. — A memorial to the victims of the infamous Dozier School for Boys is set to be unveiled in one week on the grounds of the now-shuttered state-run reform school in Marianna.

The Dozier School for Boys was in operation for 111 years before finally being closed in 2011.

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Throughout its history, allegations of physical and sexual abuse were a common thread among the inmates who made it out.

Chuck Kennedy, who now lives in Jacksonville, was one of the lucky ones.

In 1974, Kennedy was sent to the Dozier School for Boys after stealing a bike.

He was just 11 years old.

2021 STORY: Florida Senate bill proposes compensation for survivors of Dozier School for Boys

“I was in a bad place,” said Kennedy, recalling the feeling he got upon arriving at Dozier.

On his second day at the reform school, Kennedy got in a fight with another inmate and was confronted by a guard.

“And I thought I was gonna be the one, but I dropped him. He [the guard] grabbed him by the foot and dragged him away and I never saw him again. That was the last time I ever saw him,” Kennedy said.

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After that, Kennedy said he avoided the ire of the guards by always obeying commands.

But he said he bore witness to many incidents where children were beaten during his year in Dozier.

An estimated 500 victims from the school have come forward over the years, relaying similar experiences.

2014 STORY: Former Dozier School student still shudders at memories of abuse

In 2013, an excavation unearthed the remains of 40 boys buried on the school grounds.

Four years later, the Florida Legislature issued a formal apology to the victims.

“Those men are heard. What they were saying, we eventually heard,” State Senator Tracie Davis (D-Jacksonville) said.

2013 STORY: Action News Jax Investigates delays in digging Up Dozier School

Davis sponsored the apology resolution during her tenure in the Florida House.

She also helped lead the effort to erect a memorial to the victims on the school grounds.

“Unveiling that monument says that we are acknowledging the history that we have and it hasn’t been pretty,” Davis said.

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The victims’ stories and experiences will be forever enshrined in the memorial, which will be unveiled on January 13.

Another memorial set to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol is also in the works.

For Kennedy, the memorials are an important step towards closure, but he’ll always carry the scars from his nightmare at Dozier.

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“You know, I’m thankful. I made it. You know? That’s the most thankful thing. That you make it out. You know, cause a lot of people didn’t make it out,” Kennedy said.

Davis said she hopes the unveiling of the memorial next Friday sparks a renewed interest in providing restitution for the Dozier victims.

Victim compensation bills have been filed in recent years, but have failed to gain traction.

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