2016 First Ladies in African-American History honored

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – For Women’s History Month, the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum honored nine women who were the first in their fields of endeavor. Friends and family packed into the St. Petersburg Country Club to honor these extraordinary African-American history makers.

Mistress of Ceremony Valarie Cunningham introduced Councilmember Steve Kornell who read a Proclamation by the City of St. Petersburg decreeing March 20, 2016, as St. Petersburg’s First Ladies in African-American History Day.

“When we think of history we often think of time so long passed, but it is such an honor and a pleasure to be able to acknowledge history makers among us,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, chair of the museum.

Recognizing past honorees, she remarked that these ladies have been a beckon of light, and that the 2016 class will not disappoint.

“Every year I’m taken aback by the countless contributions that have been made by such extraordinary females right here in our community,” she said, pointing out that it saddens her that the museum cannot honor all of the ladies at one time.

Nesbitt-WilliamsMyrtle Nesbitt-Williams

A native Floridian, Nesbitt-Williams received a bachelor’s of arts degree from Talladega College in 1966 and a masters of education from the University of South Florida in 1976.

She is a retired educator with 41 years of dedicated service under her belt. Nesbitt-Williams spent 28 years at St. Petersburg Junior College, and in 1994 was named the associate provost.

She established herself as a dedicated educator, community servant and administrator. She has served on many boards and committees including the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the statewide articulation task force, Florida Association of Community Colleges, the National Council of Student Development and many more.

Nesbitt-Williams received the Ida S. Baker Distinguished Educator Award, Gibbs Junior College Scholarship Award, the Mid-Day Professional Women of the Year Award, the Florida Junior College Bob Graham Award for Distinguish Service to the Community, the Phi Theta Kappa Hallmark Award for Distinguished College Administrator Award and the International Who’s Who of Professional & Business Women Award.

Nesbitt-Williams was honored as the first African-American associate provost of St. Petersburg College.

Patricia AlsupPatricia Alsup

Recently appointed by President Barack Obama as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of The Gambia, Alsup has some 24 years of Foreign Service to her credit. She is a native of St. Pete where her father, Fred Alsup, was a physician and civil rights activist who worked to integrate public facilities such as Spa Beach and Spa Pool in St. Pete in the 1950s.

She attended high school at the Westtown School, a Quaker institution outside Philadelphia, graduating in 1968. She went on to Wellesley College, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics and subsequently a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. She later earned a Master of Art from National Defense University.

In 2005, Alsup went overseas for her first assignment to the Republic of The Gambia as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Banjul. In 2008, she was back in Washington as a career development officer in the Bureau of Human Resources.

She was named in 2010 as Deputy Director of the Africa Bureau’s Office of Central African Affairs and moved up to director the following year. She also served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Accra, Ghana.

Alsup was honored for being the first lady in African-American history to serve as a United Sates Ambassador to the Republic of The Gambia.

Lisa Wheeler-BrownLisa Wheeler-Brown

A St. Petersburg native, she graduated from Boca Ciega High School and then served in the United States Army.

After a stalled police investigation of her son’s murder, Wheeler-Brown got involved and actively worked with the police department to solve the case. The killer was captured, charged with first-degree murder, convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in prison. She is a community activist and gun violence prevention advocate.

Wheeler-Brown’s advocacy for justice within the neighborhood was heightened, as she became president of her neighborhood association. She has received several awards to include the 2013 Florida Holocaust Museum Loebenberg Humanitarian Award, 2013 National Crime Victims’ Rights Courage Ward, 2014 MLK Drum Major for Justice Award and the 2014 Women of Distinction Community Service Award to name a few.

In January she was sworn in as a St. Petersburg City Councilmember serving District 7. Prior to that bid she was elected president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA).

Wheeler-Brown was honored for being St. Pete’s first lady in African-American history to hold the title of CONA president.

Lilla DavisLilla Davis

Choosing a noble profession, Davis joined the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) in 1974. Her career in law enforcement spanned for nearly 30 years.

As a member of the SPPD, she served in numerous positions to include a detective in vice and narcotics, a detective in robbery/homicide and a field training officer to name but a few of her roles. Davis went on to become the first African-American relations officer to host a television show at Channel 10 and Channel 44. She also wrote weekly columns for the St. Petersburg Times regarding police and community affairs.

Over the years, Davis has received numerous awards and salutations. During her tenure she wrote the proposal that expanded the annual Police Olympics to include women for which she earned nine medals and was granted the title as founder of the Female Police Olympics.

Davis was honored for being the first African-American female in SPPD vice and narcotics, the first African American to host police/community television shows and the first African-American female to obtain nine medals in one Police Olympics and the founder of the Female Police Olympics.

Ericka DunlapEricka Dunlap

In September of 2003, Dunlap became the sixth African-American woman to be crowned Miss America. An Orlando college student who was also the first black Miss Florida in the history of the contest, Dunlap spent her year as Miss American 2004 on an exhaustive schedule of public appearances and speaking engagements before using the pageant’s generous scholarship prize to begin law school.

Dunlap was 21 years old when she became Miss America, a goal that she had dreamed of reaching since she was six years old. The daughter of a roofing contractor and a nurse, she grew up in the Orlando area and began entering beauty contests as a first grader.

“There were not that many African-American contestants,” she recalled in an interview for the St. Petersburg Times. “Not necessarily that it was whites only, but it was not something that blacks were in and that was difficult.”

She also became active in clogging, a type of folk dancing commonly associated with Appalachian culture and bluegrass fiddle music, but one that also draws upon African dance elements. At times, Dunlap was the only African-American performer in the troupes in which she belonged, one of which even performed at Disney World.

In June of 2003, she won the title and her victory was doubly thrilling because not only would she be heading to the Miss America pageant to represent her state, she also became the first African-American Miss Florida in the 68-year history of the contest.

Dunlap was honored for being Florida’s first African-American Miss Florida.

Nathalia Jeffrey-Fort, DDS

A native of Queens, NY, Jeffrey-Fort attended Brooklyn Technical High School. She received her bachelors of science in Zoology from Howard University and furthered her studies at Baltimore College of Dental Surgery Dental School at the University of Maryland.

She completed a one-year general practice residency at Harlem Hospital Center in affiliation with The Colleges of Physician & Surgeons of Columbia University. She owned and operated a private practice in Jamaica, NY, for five years before relocating to St. Petersburg in 1997.

She created The Family Dental Boutique in order to bring modern techniques into an inviting and compassionate environment.

Jeffrey-Fort was honored for becoming the first African-American female to open a local independent dental practice.

Jai HinsonJai Hinson

A native of New Jersey, Hinson relocated to Pinellas County to raise her family and enjoy Florida’s warm sunshine.

As a dancer and choreographer, Hinson soon saw a need in the Tampa Bay area for African dance and culture. While there were other types of performing arts institutions in Pinellas County, she decided to pioneer and establish African dance as a powerful, energetic and exciting dance form that would serve as a force for Pinellas County residents to learn and appreciate African culture through arts.

Focusing on artistic and cultural developments, she used African dance, culture, folklore and history as a foundation to teach disadvantaged youth in academic areas such as science, technology, history and math. Hinson developed Artz for Life Academy through which she parlayed African culture, dance, music and folklore into after school programming, Arts Exploration Summer Camps, Each One Teach One youth mentoring and entrepreneurial training, Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet Touring Ensemble and community productions such as “Chocolate Nutcracker,” “Nutcracker Twist” and “The Family Blessing.”

As thousands of youth have experience one or more of her programs, activities or events, many have realized their passion for life and graduated from colleges across the nation, performed on Broadway, been featured in magazines, television and films, toured internationally and are fulfilling the actualization of their life’s dreams. Artz 4 Life Academy has grown from the seeds of African dance into an institution of cultural arts education and learning.

Hinson was honored for being the first African American in the Tampa Bay area to create an urban African ballet academy.

Theresa JonesTheresa Jones

A native of Erie, Pa., and a 1976 graduate of Edinboro State University, Jones recently retired from the City of St. Petersburg in 2012 after more than 30 years of employment.

She served in numerous positions to include Minority Business Enterprise Coordinator and Community Affairs Director—the first and only African-American woman to hold the position.

Jones has been active in the community in various capacities such as being a founding member and secretary of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators—Tampa Bay Chapter, co-chairperson of Community Alliance, president of the Florida Association of MBE Officials and a former board member for R’Club Child Care, Inc., to name a few.

She is the recipient of numerous awards such as the 1988 Up and Comers Award, the Marks of Excellence Ward in the area of EEO and Minority Business Enterprise Footprint Service Award and the Community Service Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Jones was honored for being the first and only African-American female to hold the position of Community Affairs Director for the City of St. Petersburg.

Catherine WashingtonCatherine Washington

Born in Ormond Beach, Fla., Washington relocated to St. Pete at the tender age of six. She served in the U.S. Army Reserved for 30 years, was a licensed practical nurse at Bayfront Medical Center and later joined the St. Petersburg Fire Department, serving 26 years.

She has received numerous awards to include the Everyday Hero Award, Firefighter of the Year Wards, EMT of the Year Award and the U.S. Congressional Meritorious Medal presented by the late Congressman Bill Young.

Washington was honored for being St. Pete’s first African-American female firefighter and emergency medical technician.

City of St. Petersburg Fire Chief James Large stepped up to the podium to say a few words about Washington and to present her with a certificate of appreciation from the department.

He said not only was Washington the first sworn African-American female, but she was one of the first women period to enter into the department.  “She more than proved the capability of herself and for those that followed in her footsteps.”

After the 2016 class received their honors, Lipsey Scott brought up the museum’s board to recognize their tireless efforts in helping to record and preserve African-American history in St. Pete.

“These women threaten to quit on me every day,” laughed Lipsey Scott. “Despite the visions that I may have, surely I cannot turn them out without the support of these extraordinary women.”

She ended the program asking for volunteers to help the museum in some capacity whether it is mentoring a Woodson Warrior or Girlfriend’s Club member, which are mentorship programs for young boys and girls who attend Melrose Elementary School, volunteering personal time or even through monetary donations.

“I’m pleading with you today to invest in African-American history. Help us interpret, present and preserve the integrity of history past, history present and history to come,” Lipsey Scott said, reporting that the Woodson had more exhibits and programs than any other museum in the city last year.

Congratulations to the 2016 honorees!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top