First Ladies in African-American History honored

BY HOLLY KESTENIS Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum is known for its depiction of black life and its efforts to preserve the rich history of the area, and for the last two years it has been known for honoring innovative African-American women in the Tampa Bay area.

For Women’s History Month, the Woodson Museum honored nine women who were the first in their fields of endeavor. Hundreds of people headed down to the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, in an effort to recognize these women.

Angela Rouson, president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and Museum of Fine Arts board member for the last 10 years, was the Mistress of Ceremonies for the event.

Rouson spoke on the remarkable individual achievement of black women not only presently, but in the history of our nation in their pursuit of the centuries old goal of freedom, equality and justice.

“Some names on the honoree list are easily recognized, while others have a more docile approach to giving back and making a difference,” said Rouson. “Regardless of their fame, we applaud the efforts of all on this list as we encourage many others to follow in their footsteps.”

Victor Langford, IV, a new board member to the Woodson Museum acknowledged the selfless acts each honoree has made in order to make a difference. “These women here are doing work well worth doing,” he said before appealing to the hearts of the audience and asking for monetary contributions for the Woodson Museum.

Langford was sure to point out that giving doesn’t just come from the pocket, but with time as well. Showing up, taking part and actively passing on African-American history is a form of giving.

“The fact that you’re here represents a decision to say, ‘yes we are here to honor the women in this community who have given so much,’” said Langford, “and we are standing on their shoulders.”

Darden Rice, City Councilmember District 4, presented and read a proclamation from the city.

“Women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength of our nation, state, cities and families in countless recorded and unrecorded ways,” read Rice.

Women everywhere have served as early leaders and in the forefront of every major progressive and social change movement, yet their stories are often not told or celebrated. Rice went on to declare that despite these contributions, the roles of African-American women in history has also been consistently overlooked and undervalued in literature, teaching and study of American history.

Although she could not be present, Representative Cathy Castor wrote a personal note to each of the nine women being honored, recognizing their dedication and their invaluable contributions to the community.

Dr. Nancy Y. Bryant

A Tampa native, Dr. Nancy Bryant has been a resident of St. Petersburg for more than 30 years. She is an ophthalmologist and practices with the St. Petersburg Eye Clinic at the Suncoast Medical Clinic, an affiliate of Baycare Health Systems.

She is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Medicine, the University of Texas Health Science Center Department of Ophthalmology, San Antonio, Texas and Tuskegee University.

Prior to making St. Petersburg her home, Bryant served in the Army Medical Corp as an ophthalmologist at Fort Benning, Ga. For the past 17 years she has assisted in hosting an annual African American Health Forum founded by her husband Dr. Ken Bryant. She provides vision and glaucoma screenings at the event and chairs a Memorial Health and Wellness Walk prior to the annual forum.

Her professional memberships include: The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons and the National Medical Association.

Bryant is a member of the Links, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the American Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the Minority Health Coalition of Pinellas.

Other than health related interests, she is an avid fan and promoter of the arts. She and her husband have an extensive collection of art mostly from the African diaspora. She celebrates being a wife, mother and grandmother.

Bryant is a cataract surgeon and treats medical and surgical diseases of the eye and surrounding structures. She has practiced medicine in St. Petersburg for 28 years and is the first African- American female in St. Petersburg to open an ophthalmology practice.

Edie Darling

Edie Darling is a St. Petersburg native with strong ties to the community. She is a retired Deputy Sherriff from the Pinellas County Sherriff’s Office whose passion for law enforcement was born of a single encounter with a local St. Petersburg Police Officer.

Darling’s passion for helping others grew outside the lines of public safety. Born of that desire was an inspiration ministry. She is currently the radio/television show host of “Wake up with Edie Darling.” The show provides the extra boost of encouragement and motivation of faith, hope and love when one might need more than just that jolt of coffee in the morning.

Darling is a dynamic motivational speaker, visionary and a humanitarian. Her message of peace and love transcends all religions, and as a result she is able to connect with people of all beliefs.

She has been in Christian Ministry since 2004 as the founder/CEO of Triune of God and Man International Church, End Time Message Ministries and recently Wake Up With Edie Darling, LLC.

Her favorite scripture is Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope for the future.”

Having found her way back to the sheriff’s office in a new profession, Darling is currently the first African-American female senior chaplain of the Detention and Corrections Department at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, where she supervises the religious services of the inmate population of the Pinellas County Jail.

Dr. Marilyn Fudge

A native of St. Petersburg, Dr. Marilyn Fudge is a graduate of the University of South Florida College of Public Health and the University of Florida College of Medicine.

She is currently the assistant residency program director, supervising and teaching OB-GYN and Family Medicine residents as well as rotating third and fourth year medical students on labor and delivery.

Fudge staffs the moderate-risk obstetrics clinic as well as the gynecology continuity clinics. She provides lectures for resident physicians and students on various topics and assists the program director with the management and administration of residency and day-to-day clinic operations.

Her professional affiliations include: Fellow, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Examiner, American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Medical Education Committee and Graduate Medical Education Committee to name a few. Socially, she is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Links, Inc.

A proud wife and mother, Fudge is St. Petersburg’s first African-American female obstetrician to open a private practice.

School Board Member Rene Flowers

The Honorable Rene Flowers is a lifelong resident of St. Petersburg, and a product of Pinellas County schools. She is a graduate of Tallahassee Community College and Eckerd College with degrees in political science and organizational studies. She holds a statewide certification as a Quality Assurance Auditor and a Florida Certified Board Trainer.

Flowers is currently employed by Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services as the Quality Improvement Manager/ Corporate Trainer, overseeing 657 employees in 32 counties covering 86 programs.

From 1998-2008 she served as a member of St. Petersburg City Council. During her tenure, she became St. Petersburg’s first African-American female to hold the position of president of the Florida League of Cities.

In 2012, Flowers was elected to the Pinellas County School Board District 7 seat after the sudden and unfortunate passing of School Board Member Lew Williams. She overwhelmingly won reelection in November 2014.

Her recognitions include Woman of the Year, Resource Center for Women, I’m Every Woman 1996, Volunteer of the Year Award: NAACP Branch Award 2001, Sigma Gamma Rho “Footprints of Service” Award, Unsung Hero Award, PEMHS Pace Award for Outstanding Service 2002, NCNW Salute to Women of Impact 2004 just to name a few.

Flowers serves on a number of community, social and civic organizations such as the Pinellas County Urban League Guild, NCNW, a Friend of the Carter G. Woodson Museum, R’Club and Louise Graham Board of Directors and numerous others. She is the mother to three adult children and a member of Greater Mt Zion A.M.E. Church.

Flowers is St. Petersburg’s first African-American female to hold the elected positions of city council and school board member.

Tamara Felton Howard, Esq.

A native of St. Petersburg, Tamara Felton Howard, Esq. is a graduate of Florida A & M University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration; Stetson University with Juris Doctor and Master of Business Administration, and is currently studying at the University of Miami College of Law candidate for LL.M. in Real Property Development Law.

Felton Howard is employed by Urban Development Solutions, Inc. where her responsibilities include in-house legal matters for the non-profit, community redevelopment including civil litigations and appellate matters for the company and its affiliates.

Prior to opening Felton Law Firm, P.A. in 2008, she partnered with the Law

Office of Rouson and Dudley, P.A., Law Office of Tamara Felton Dudley, P.A. and the Office of the State Attorney.

Felton Howard’s civic involvement includes Commissioner, Sixth Judicial Nominating Commission, Appointed by former Governor Jeb Bush; Board of Governors, All Children’s Hospital, Social Justice for Human Rights, Chair; a member of Zeta Upsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., President of the Fred G. Minnis Bar Association, Successes Unlimited Youth and Business Center and Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.

Proud wife and mother, she is a member of Faith Memorial Missionary Baptist Church.

Felton Howard was the first African-American female to obtain and Juris Doctor and MBA from Stetson University.

Jacqueline Hubbard, Esq.

St. Petersburg Attorney Jacqueline Hubbard obtained a degree in Political Science from Bryn Mawr College and a Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law. She is a woman of many firsts relative to African-American history.

She practiced Criminal Defense Law as the first African-American woman appointed as a member of the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office in Oakland-Berkeley, Calif. (1974- 1980). Bryant was the first African-American woman Territorial Public Defender for United States Virgin Islands, and a Managing Attorney for United States Federal Defender’s Office for St. Thomas and St. John, and also a Civil Litigator in the law firm of Johnson, Blakeley, Pope, Ruppel and Burns in Clearwater (1985-1990).

Hubbard served as a City Attorney for the City of Fort Myers (1990-1998), a Professor of Legal Studies at Edison College in Fort Myers (1999-2000); the first African-American woman litigator and Litigation Section Chief for Collier County from which she retired in 2012.

Her community engagement includes St. Petersburg Chapter of the Links, Inc.; Board of Directors of Pinellas ACLU; President, Member of the Florida Bar Association, Lawyers of Conscience of St. Petersburg Holocaust Museum, just to name a few.

This past year Hubbard led the effort to create the St. Petersburg Branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, of which she is the president.

A member of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, she is a proud mother and grandmother.

Hubbard was the first African-American woman recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fellowship for the study of law at Boston University.

Cynthia Jenkins

A graduate of Gibbs High School, Cynthia M. Jenkins received her bachelors of arts degree from Eckerd College.

A devoted and committed advocate for community empowerment, she has been actively engaged in numerous outreach imitative.

Jenkins is a 2014 leadership graduate of the Council of Neighborhood Associations; past chair of the Business and Professional Women Careerist Program, Chair of the Black Women for Equal Pay Coalition, Vice President of Education Downtown St. Petersburg Toastmasters, Member of Pinellas National Association of Women and serves as Business and Professional Women of Florida Education Liaison to St. Petersburg College. She is also a former member of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.

Beyond her civic engagement, this wife, mother and grandmother is a Sunday School Superintendent and the former Chair of Eckerd College’s Staff Council.

Jenkins is the first female African-American president of St. Petersburg’s Business

and Professional Women.

Ya La’Ford, Esq.

Bronx-born Ya La’Ford is a visual artist who earned a bachelor degree from Florida State University, a Juris Doctor from University of Florida and a Masters in Fine Arts from Boston University. She is currently a professor at the University of Tampa and St. Petersburg College, and works between Florida and New York; however, she has made St. Petersburg her home.

La’Ford is the granddaughter of John Dunkley, “Jamaica’s first and finest intuitive painter,” according to Guggenheim Fellow Eldzier Cortor. In her practice, she explores human interconnectivity, evidence, negative/positive space and time, metaphysics, obsession and manipulation.

La’Ford’s paintings are included in corporate, private and public collections and she has exhibited her work nationally and internationally. Her artwork covers rummage and appropriate iconic and not so iconic mass cultural imagery, with a base in African American and American history and their respective vernacular.

Seeking to make a connection with the community through art, La’Ford’s most recent installation, currently showing at the Woodson Museum, includes a time capsule designed to encourage individuals (particularly youth) to write a letter of their hopes, goals and dreams for the museum and the City of St. Petersburg. The time capsule will be reopened at the museum on March 14, 2019.

Married to her best friend and the love of her life, she is currently engaged in the Leadership St. Pete Class of 2015.

La’Ford is St. Petersburg’s first national/international African-American female artist to create an installation exhibit.

Shannon Ligon, Esq.

A St. Petersburg native, Attorney Shannon Ligon is a product of Pinellas County Schools. Graduating from high school at age 16, she obtained a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Business Management/Economics from Florida State College, and a Juris Doctor from Florida A&M University School of Law.

She has inspired area youth to reach for the stars. Her compassion for disenfranchised teenagers has gained her widespread popularity. She began giving back to her hometown when volunteering her assistance at the Royal Theater’s Boys and Girls Club when securing funding for music equipment for children aspiring to become entertainers.

Ligon’s philanthropic arms reach wide as she embrace community projects such as “Bring out the Doll” ensuring that little black girls have an opportunity to own a doll that looks like them. She has hosted fundraising opportunities that have benefitted several local charities.

As a young professional, Ligon has worked in the law firms of Gary, Williams, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson, & Sperando P.L.; the Women’s Trial Group, Attorneys at Law and currently own and operates the Ligon Law Group with an emphasis on entertainment and sports.

Attorney Shannon Ligon is St. Petersburg’s youngest African-American female entertainment attorney to open a local practice.

“We salute you, our sisters, and we are proud of your accomplishments and what you represent,” said Wood Museum Chair Terri Lipsey-Scott.

Although all nine women were honored for their contributions to the community, Scott highlighted two who for her stood out with their efforts to help the museum: Shannon Ligon and Rene Flowers. Both women received an Eye on You Award.

The ceremony ended with songs and the honorees were provided with a copy of the proclamation naming March 29, 2015, as St. Petersburg’s First Ladies in African American History Day. Recipients also received a key to the city.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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