Saturday marked a milestone in the history of St. Petersburg College (SPC) as prominent community members converged along 22nd Street South to pay tribute to two community heroes with a prestigious past.
Both Cecil B. Keene Sr. and Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. will be forever remembered and revered as their names stand out in a community that will always commemorate their tireless contributions to St. Petersburg and the residents of the Midtown area.
“We stand here in celebration at a location that hasn’t always had cause to celebrate. Midtown is the heart of St. Petersburg, south of Central Avenue,” said Dr. William Law, SPC’s president.
During segregation 22nd Street flourished as the place to be for African Americans, but after laws were changed and the highway coming through taking businesses and homes, the area began to dwindle economically. For the last few decades, efforts have been made by local politicians such as former Mayor Rick Baker, who was in attendance at the afternoon unveiling, to revitalize the area.
Today, 22nd Street South boasts the newly renovated Manhattan Casino that houses Sylvia’s Queen of Soul Food Restaurant downstairs and small area businesses ready for a steady stream of customers. But with SPC building a new leg of its campus smack dab on 22nd Street and 13th Avenue South, which they intend to name after Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr., the $14 million three-story building is set to attract students from all over St. Petersburg.
The main focus though is to provide a place for prospective students from the Midtown area to go that doesn’t require extensive travel and will give them an education and job training.
“Our celebration was put in motion years, indeed decades ago, by these and others who could feel the heartbeat of the community and who knew that it was strong enough to endure,” said Law as he pointed out the myriad of public officials who had a hand in the auspicious moment.
But when SPC chairman Deveron Gibbons unveiled the names of the men being honored, all talk was about their lengthy accomplishments. The existing building located at 1048 22nd Street South was dedicated and renamed the Cecil B. Keene Sr. Student Achievement Center.
A native of the Tampa Bay area, Keene served his country at Tuskegee before he was injured. He was the Dean of Students at Gibbs Junior College and later became principal of Gibbs and Pinellas High School. He had a long career with SPC and was a member of their Board of Trustees. Keene passed away in 2008.
“He accomplished more than a lot of people in a short amount of time, than most people accomplish in a long, long time,” said Gibbons who remembers Keene’s commitment to all people, especially his students.
“He always used to tell me, ‘Don’t waste time Deveron, you can’t waste time when you’re doing stuff’.”
After bestowing a plaque to the family, Gibbons turned to the other honoree. Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. was born and raised in St. Petersburg. He was a State Legislature and the Florida Educational Commissioner.
“I can’t describe how huge he was and still is to me and the impact he made,” reminisced Gibbons who still looks to Jamerson for guidance, even though he passed in 2001. “There was nowhere where you could go in this community where someone did not know Doug Jamerson.”
But Jamerson was at his best in Tallahassee. “He fought for teachers, he fought for anything and everything that he could for St. Petersburg to be a better community,” continued Gibbons. “He was the best legislature for this district that I have ever seen.” Mayor Rick Kriseman was in attendance thanking SPC for their leadership and their vision for making the decision to build in the Midtown area. “This is also another step in Midtown being the destination that I know it will be one day,” he said.
A ceremonial groundbreaking of sorts followed as community leaders and those involved with the vision of revamping the Midtown area laid mortar and concrete at the building site. The new building is set to open in mid-2015 and will be some 45,000 square feet. The Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. campus will also house a library with a children’s area.
It seems the heart of Midtown and its surrounding communities is beating strongly once again.