The Gathering of Women, Inc. held their 2019 Men and Women of Distinction Awards Sunday, April 28.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — The Gathering of Women, Inc. 2019 Men and Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony kicked off an amazing afternoon Sunday, April 28. The St. Petersburg Country Club, located at 2000 Country Club Way S, was filled with family and friends who came out to support the achievements of this year’s honorees.
The Distinction Awards are given to honor individuals who have tirelessly given their time, talent and expertise to benefit the community. These heroes represent a broad range of activism that included health, culture, public service and business.
Each year, candidates for the Distinction Awards undergo a strict review process that starts in the previous year. To evaluate the nominations, a selection committee gauges all names within the context of community involvement, leadership, commitment, a concern for humanity and having an enduring and meaningful impact.
Andrida Hosey, the lead theater instructor for the fine arts program at John Hopkins Middle School, took over the mistress of ceremonies duties while Rev. L. Don Middleton, pastor of New Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, gave the keynote address.
This year’s Roger and Renee Ambrose Education Scholarships were awarded to Sierra Lowery (Boca Ciega), Elissa Redix (Boca Ciega), Joanna Miller (Gibbs High), Jordan Bolds (Northside Christian), Tomeeka Wright (Pinellas Technical College), Brittine Seveur (Pinellas Technical College) and Kristopher King. These seven youths are eager to make a difference in the community, and a scholarship is the organization’s way of giving them a head start.
The Gathering of Women’s Josephine Lampley said they strive to help as many young people as possible, but community support is needed. Pinellas Technical College (PTC) heard their call and answered with a $5,000 donation.
Nicole Brand, program coordinator and facilities manager for the Food System Center at PTC started working with the organization not long after she started the position in late 2017. With help from more than 100 volunteers and about six months of hard work, a beautiful flourishing garden named after Lampley (Miss Jo’s Garden) was established.
“It has been a phenomenal experience. We have had so many families and students come through, and we’ve had the pleasure of giving both cooking and garden education to them,” said Brand. “That work is so profoundly important, and I’ve been able to see and grow with them.”
Miss Joe’s Garden, on the grounds of the St. Pete campus, allows children from surrounding neighborhoods to visit the garden and get a chance to see firsthand where herbs and vegetables come from.
Last summer, the Kids in the Kitchen program allowed the youngsters to revamp and maintain the garden on Tuesdays, and on Thursdays, the group headed inside of the former horticulture building to learn about food nutrition, safe cooking practices and how to fuse items from their own community garden into edible masterpieces.
The program was a huge success, and Brand and The Gathering of Women are gearing up for another round of summer fun.
Arts, Cultural & Heritage Award
Born to James and Shirley Brown on Nov. 13, 1962, Shawn Brown is the last of six siblings. His mother was a classically trained pianist and vocalist, and his father was a jazz vocalist in the United States Navy. This union produced a solid foundation as all of the children were musically nurtured and encouraged to pursue their talents.
Brown’s musical journey started at the age of three when he began playing the piano and then became the organist accompanying his mother for their church at eighth years old. He continued to play at his church throughout his adolescent years until he moved to Tampa.
He has a driving passion and desire to help others, which has inspired a group of community professionals that have locked arms to be a part of that vision. These men and women are honored to be on the Shawn Brown Foundation Board as Trustees and are committed to guide and delegate this foundation to make the proper designations to help others in need.
Brown is also known as one of the top Hammond organ players in the jazz community. He was featured in the 2013 “Killer B3” documentary. He plans to use his skills and his Hammond organs to raise funds for chosen charities. The proceeds will help mentor young, less fortunate musicians and to provide grants and scholarships.
One of those young musicians was Eric Darius, who today is one of jazz’s top worldwide saxophone players. He lives in Los Angeles and credits the start of his success to Brown as his mentor.
The foundation will use strict guidelines and board voted discretions to make Brown’s vision become a reality. Their collective intent is to provide financial assistance to families in need for educational and cultural advancement.
Health & Awareness Award
A maternal and child health (MCH) professional, St. Pete native Kimberly Brown-Williams has more than 19 years of experience in the field. She began her MCH career as a certified community health worker and worked in several other roles within Healthy Start.
In 2014, she became the program manager and provided strategic leadership to the Healthy Start program, local and national MCH networks and racial equity efforts. Her professional experience includes MCH programming and advocacy work, health and racial equity, collaborative leadership and community-based organization to achieve collective impact.
As the current program manager for the federal Healthy Start Initiative at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Brown-Williams sits on their Diversity and Inclusion Council and is the co-chair of the health equity component. She is also a current member of the National Healthy Start Association (NHSA) board, serves as the co-chair of the membership and engagement committee, has been on the planning committee for the last four NHSA annual conferences and the national fatherhood activities.
Locally, Brown-Williams is a board member for the Healthy Start Coalition where she serves on the Fund Development and Quality Improvement and Planning Committees. She also represents Healthy Start in a variety of grassroots community-based initiatives and is an active member of the Business and Professional Women Organization.
Her education and professional development include a Bachelor of Arts degree from Eckerd College and certifications in Maternal Child Health and Portfolio Development from St. Petersburg College.
Brown-Williams has been married to Calvin Williams for 13 years, and they have a beautiful daughter, Aaliyah. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and spending time with family and close friends.
Young Woman of Distinction Award
Kira Marae Butler
Kira Marae Butler is a 15-year-old 10th grader enrolled in the Center for Wellness and Medical Professions at The Boca Ciega High School, where she maintains a 3.2 unweighted GPA. She is a member of both the Student Government Assembly and the Excelling Excellence Program.
She truly loves to sing and is a valuable member of her high school chorus. The church choir and worship programs offer other opportunities for Kira to share her voice. She also loves praise dancing and swimming as well.
She is supported by her parents, Ulas and Ladonna Butler, and siblings Imari, Mason, Quinci and Oren. Kira looks to the future with aspirations of becoming a pediatric nurse. With God as her guide and a family of cheerleaders, the sky’s the limit.
Last January, Kira played the role of Sheba Robinson in the theatrical production “Dream for America.” Starring superstar Lamman Rucker, the play reflects and celebrates the past 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement. This production was created in partnership with the Arts Conservatory for Teens and St. Petersburg College, showcasing the amazing talent of teens throughout Pinellas County.
Young Man of Distinction Award
Jordan Tyler Bolds
The son of Terrence and Dr. Angela Bolds, Jordan Bolds is a 12th grader at Northside Christian School and a member of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, where he serves as the church saxophonist.
Jordan is an accomplished saxophonist and has been playing for approximately seven years. He first discovered his love for music and the saxophone while attending St. Petersburg Christian School where he became a member of the band.
Pastor Ricardo Welch of Prayer Tower Church of God taught both Jordan and his brother, Joel Tayler, the rudiments of music. Pastor Welch soon discovered the gift in both Jordan and his brother and began to push them out front, giving them various solo and duet segments during the Sunday morning worship service. It is from this point the brothers recognized and embraced their musical gifts.
Jordan began to develop and perfect his gift and has participated in many church, community and social programs and contests. He is a member of Northside Christian’s marching band, jazz band and concert band, and has won many awards including first place of the 2016 “Power of Song: Sounds of the Civil Rights Movement” program and first place of the 2017 Greatness Beyond Measure program held in Bradenton. He has also received superior ratings in band competitions.
Academically, Jordan maintains an A average and has future aspirations of becoming a biomedical engineer.
A graduate of Gibbs High School and Gibbs Junior College, Mary Murph holds a bachelor and master’s degree in guidance counseling from Florida A &M University. She has certifications in intellectual disabilities and varying exceptionalities.
While working for 32 years in Pinellas County Schools as an educator and a school guidance counselor, she was also a wife, mother of two and trailblazer and champion for the sickle cell disease.
Murph’s work began humbly when she founded the first sickle cell disease foundation in the state of Florida. Once housing the operations out of her home, it now serves more than 135 local families at its location at the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center in Midtown.
For 46 years, Murph has supervised, trained, motivated, educated, inspired and positively impacted the St. Petersburg community through her efforts and underlying passion for the sickle cell disease. She works in a volunteer position as the president & CEO of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America St. Petersburg Chapter.
Murph is well acquainted with the daily task of operating a minority business with little funding. She is a courageous advocate who makes sure that sickle cell patients are treated fairly at the hospitals. She knows that to accomplish these goals, you have to be very well organized, educated, relentless and creative. She believes in providing the best in services and support to their clients.
Murph has celebrated many accomplishments, honors and awards on the local, state and national levels for her extraordinary work in the community. She is a lifetime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and a member of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church.
Community Activist & Leadership Award
Dunedin resident Laura Connelly is president of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) North Pinellas Woman’s Club, a nonprofit service organization. This group of 170 women gives their time for hands-on service projects throughout Pinellas County, volunteering more than 23,000 hours each year in support of over 160 community services projects.
Connelly has held several other GFWC positions at the club, district and state level, including leadership chair, district secretary and president’s project chair. She’s an advisor for the GFWC Pinellas Juniorettes, a service organization for 12-18-year-olds, and helped launch two new international affiliate GFWC clubs in Belize, Central America.
Actively involved in supporting teenagers in the community, Connelly has mentored homeless youth at Countryside High School, volunteered in the school’s career center, worked with teens at Ready for Life and mentored girls at the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch in Safety Harbor. She and her husband Bill have an adopted daughter from the ranch.
A member of First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin, Connelly has served as elder and chair of the mission committee. She also served on the social services committee for the City of Dunedin and was a founding board member of the Dunedin Cares food pantry.
After leading several church mission trips to Belize, she founded and served as executive director of Belize Hope, a nonprofit that provided high school scholarships for young people in the country. She then spent a year living in Belize where she opened and ran a foster home for nine teenage girls.
During her professional career, Connelly has held roles in technology sales and sales leadership, executive recruiting and career/leadership consulting for AT&T, IBM and Management Recruiters International. She also founded and ran two executive search firms and served as a member of MRI’s strategic think tank and international board.
Connelly served as a workforce development trainer and consultant for nonprofits including the AARP Foundation and now serves as director of operations for PathLight International, an educational nonprofit based in Belize. She and her son founded a family business teaching golf and tennis to elementary-aged youth, where Laura serves as operations manager.
A cum laude graduate of Bucknell University, she’s been married 31 years and is the proud parent of three grown children and 10 foster children, plus six grandkids in the U.S. and three in Belize.
Community Building & Public Service Award
A St. Petersburg native, Lottie Culbertson attended local public schools and graduated from The Boca Ciega High School. She is a graduate of Florida A&M University, where she majored in nursing. She then attended graduate school at the University of Phoenix and earned a master’s degree in nursing education.
Culbertson’s volunteer path began at the Boys and Girls Club and local public schools. In 1997, she joined the grassroots organization Child’s Park Youth Initiative Council/Community Change for Youth Development (CCYD), where she served as co-chairperson and chairperson for five years. CCYD was a community initiative that provided youth and families with tools to enhance their development, knowledge and opportunities.
She also served as a SAC member and PTO treasurer for six years while her children were in public school. She served as the Health and Wellness coordinator at Fifth Avenue Church of Christ from Jan. 2009 to Nov. 2018, where she developed a clinic environment at a state lectureship to service the health needs of the attendees.
For 10 years, Culbertson volunteered as a certified faith community nurse through St. Anthony’s Hospital and collaborates with community partners to develop health initiatives that include Go Red for Women, Pharmacy Brown Bag, health walks, breast cancer awareness, flu shots and Blood Pressure Sundays.
Cuthbertson is the president of Black Nurses Rock – St. Petersburg Chapter, a non-profit professional nursing organization geared towards reaching vulnerable communities to provide health education, information and resources. She’s served as a member of Johns Hopkins All Children Community Action Network for four years, a member of Churches United for Healthy Congregations steering committee and is a church liaison.
Her faith is a priority to her. Cuthbertson was raised in the Church of Christ and currently attends Pinecrest Park Church of Christ, with Minister Lenwood Sapp, Sr. She is the mother of two beautiful daughters, Takita Monique and Regina Natasha, and is a grandmother to Daniel Joseph.
Volunteer, Advocacy & Community Leader Award
Calvin Brown is a Workforce Development Specialist at the Pinellas County Urban League and master’s level clinician at The Well, whose passion is to help clients achieve their career dreams, find healthy perceptions of themselves and strengthen their relationships so they can know themselves as peaceful, complete, whole and safe.
His philosophy is to seize opportunities, embrace change, rekindle passions and use strengths to create a career infused with a sense of purpose and fulfillment and a life that you feel makes a difference. Brown’s mission is to provide a guiding light to individuals seeking a positive change in their lives as they navigate the waters of an ever-changing world.
He is committed to empowering clients and helping them find a career or job that is challenging, fulfilling and meaningful. Brown works collaboratively with his clients to identify the real issue(s), match values with career choices, gain more self-awareness, explore options, overcome obstacles and set goals with accountability. These are the steps that lead to successful change and transition in a career.
At The Well, his passion is bringing healing to people who have been through a traumatic or stressful experience. Because research shows that unhealthy relationships can cause both emotional and physical stress, whereas healthy relationships can enhance and improve overall well-being, Brown offers group counseling, anger management, substance abuse counseling and individual counseling for anxiety, depression and relationship issues.
He is a native of St. Pete and is familiar with the numerous obstacles that job seekers, families and couples face on a day-to-day basis. He enjoys meeting people, traveling and empowering his community. Brown holds a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in international business from St. Petersburg College and a Master of Arts degree in clinical mental health counseling from Webster University.
Business & Innovation Award
Jo Ann Swain Nesbitt
President and CEO of St. Jude Great Commission Community Development Corporation, Jo Ann Swain Nesbitt manages and directs a comprehensive revitalization strategy for low-income neighborhoods in south St. Petersburg. She employs homeownership and entrepreneurship as springboards to economic stability. She believes those two activities create generational family wealth and works to build healthy neighborhoods.
Nesbitt is also a consultant dedicated to helping organizations, small businesses, church congregations and individuals lead the positive change that benefits society through social entrepreneurship and other community impact endeavors. A business innovator, she has owned successful enterprises along with her husband in the areas of music entertainment, home buying education and restaurant ownership.
Prior to her current position, Nesbitt enjoyed careers in non-profit management, real estate, mortgage lending, banking and human services for more than 35 years. She has served many organizations, individuals and families in areas of organizational, personal and professional development. Her mission is to help others realize the inner-power they have to do good works!
Nesbitt has provided training and development for agencies and organizations such as the St. Petersburg Branch NAACP, Front Porch Florida, Women on the Way St. Petersburg College, Somebody Cares Tampa Bay and many more. Through her efforts, she has seen hundreds of individuals develop skills that have moved them forward in life and provided stability for themselves and their families.
She has ministered to women in seminars and conferences in Word and song since 2004, and leads the women’s ministry at her church, St. Jude Great Commission Church. Nesbitt has a master’s degree in human services with a concentration in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College. She is married to Pastor Edward Nesbitt, Jr. and they have three adult children and 10 grandchildren.
Journalism and Media Award
Rod Carter anchors News Channel 8’s weekend evening newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m. and report general assignment three days a week. He is a proud graduate of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, and this past March was inducted into the Godby High School Alumni Hall of Fame.
Carter is very active in the community as host of hundreds of community events throughout Florida, Alabama, and of course, Tampa Bay. He routinely mentors students in journalism and is a teacher for the Florida A&M University National Association of Black Journalists Short Course every year, instructing students in broadcast during an intensive weekend course.
He has covered a number of stories throughout his career, including being the only local reporter embedded with the NAACP on the historic march on Washington 50th anniversary and the Selma Jubilee. His involvement with NAACP dates back to childhood where he was president of the youth council.
Carter is the corresponding secretary of the Tampa Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and president of the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists. He is also on the community leadership board of the American Diabetes Association, a member of the board of visitors for the FAMU School of Journalism, a life member of the FAMU National Alumni Association, a Swope, Rodante Vanguard Award Selection board member and corresponding secretary of the Crescent Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Tampa Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.
Rod is a member of Beulah Baptist Institutional Church in Tampa.
Higher Education Leadership & Achievement Award
Dr. Allyson L. Watson
Before serving as the dean for the College of Education at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP), Dr. Allyson L. Watson served as assistant dean, and Northeastern State University’s first named endowed chair. She also served as the assistant director at the University of Oklahoma-Center for Educational & Community Renewal (now K-20 Center).
Her educational background includes a baccalaureate degree from Bethune-Cookman University in elementary education, a master’s degree in education and doctoral degrees in educational administration, curriculum and supervision from the University of Oklahoma.
She is a full professor and tenured graduate faculty with a substantial amount of teaching experience in courses such as educational research, advanced educational measurements and statistics, public school relations and instructional strategies. Watson has focused her research on urban education, faculty of color in higher education and urban school and university partnerships.
In 2010, she founded Teaching & Urban Reform Network, a program to prepare pre-service teachers in urban education and encourage effective pedagogical practices. This work has served as a platform for the successful acquisition of grants, research presentations, journal articles and a book chapter.
In 2015, Watson coordinated a team of educators from across the U.S. to help establish the first-ever robotics lab for girls in north Haiti. This sustainable work has empowered girls and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Through this innovative initiative, Haiti sent the first competitive girls team in the history of the nation to compete in the VEX World Championship Robotics Competition.
Last summer, USFSP College of Education launched an inaugural STEM robotics camp for students in fifth through eighth grades to enrich academic and experiential learning within the Tampa Bay region, which earned her the Girls, Incorporated STEM Woman of the Year for 2018.
Following that prestigious recognition, USFSP’s College of Education celebrated the grand opening of a state-of-the-art innovative STEM lab for all future educators, educational leaders and organizational partners to engage and experience creative and innovative discovery first hand.
Watson received a Legacy Award for her continued impact on Pinellas County, following in the footsteps of her grand-uncle Dr. Gilbert Henry Leggett Sr. She is also an inaugural alumnus of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, former national alumni president (2010-13) and 2014 past president of the Gates Millennium Scholars Alumni Association.
As a member of the Alpha Epsilon Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Watson is committed to her community and impact through service. She believes that her job as an educator is to empower others to believe in themselves and their capacity to reach their true potential.
Education, Training & Development Award
As the coordinator of the Early Childhood Apprenticeship program at Pinellas Technical College (PTC), Victoria Culbreth-Cribb and her staff prepare adults to earn staff credential through the Florida Department of Education. With this certification, graduating apprentices become lead instructors in licensed child care facilities and or become child development associates in Pinellas County Early Childhood classrooms. The program graduates more than 70 apprentices each year.
Since her first job at 14 years old, most of her employment record consists of working with children. Culbreth-Cribb taught in several licensed child care facilities including Little Challengers, which was born out of PTC. She continued striving for higher education and graduated from the University of South Florida and later received a master’s degree in reading from Saint Leo College.
She has worked for Pinellas County Schools in child care training, a kindergarten teacher and with the apprenticeship program she has now coordinated for the past nine years.
Working at PTC has afforded her many opportunities to help others. She became the lead mentor, hospitality chair, Skills USA lead advisor and department chair for 13 programs. Culbreth-Cribb enjoys working and being challenged, a trait she received from her father. With minimal formal education, her father raised a family and earned his high school diploma at the age of 70.
Her parents raised six children with high Christian values and stressed the importance of education. Culbreth-Cribb was the first child in her family to earn a college degree, which inspired some of her siblings. Her two brothers are college graduates who pastor their own churches in Fla. and Ga.
She has been blissfully married to Elder Desmond Cribb for 13 years, calling him her “rock and greatest supporter.” The couple has been blessed with three beautiful children.
Minister Ulas Demese Butler
Born to Glorene Nichols and Ulas Butler on Sept. 3, 1977, Ulas Demese Butler was raised in St. Petersburg and was educated in Pinellas County Schools, graduating from St. Petersburg High School in 1996.
In Jan. 1997, he accepted the call of God to preach the gospel. Minister Butler loves the Word of God and even more the people of God. He serves faithfully as an associate minister at True Light Missionary Baptist Church, where the Rev. Charlie Ward is his pastor.
He earned an Associate of Arts degree from St. Petersburg College in May 2002. While working at SPC, he met the love of his life, LaDonna Nicole Whitfield. The two united in holy matrimony in August that same year. God filled their home with lots of children: Imari, Kira, Mason, Oren and Quinci, all endearingly refer to him as “Papa.”
In Sept. 2014, Butler went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in human services a little over a year later from Springfield College in Tampa. He is currently the center director for The Lew Williams Center for Early Learning, an R’Club Child Care, Inc. preschool.
At Lew Williams, Butler has the opportunity to invest in the lives hundreds of youngsters, tens of teachers and countless family and friends. He uses God’s wisdom and love to bless and encourage his fellowman.
Gwen Reese Lifetime Achievement Award
A St. Petersburg resident of St. Petersburg since 1956, Jon Wilson moved from Scottsbluff, Neb., as a child with his parents. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degrees in journalism and Florida Studies, all from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Wilson is a semi-retired journalist after working as a reporter and editor for the Evening Independent and St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), working almost exclusively in local journalism. Although he retired from the Times in 2007, he continues his journalism career with the Florida Humanities Council and as an occasional history columnist for The Weekly Challenger.
He is vice president of the African American Heritage Association and worked with Gwendolyn Reese and others on the African American Heritage Trail on 22nd Street South and on Ninth Avenue South. Wilson co-authored two books about African-American history in St. Petersburg, a book on St. Petersburg’s immediate post-World War II years and wrote a novel about 19th-century Florida.
Possessing the sturdy hearts and souls of adventurers, he and his wife Becky walked coast-to-coast across England, from St. Bee’s to Robin Hood’s Bay, in 2005. They reprised the journey in 2011. Their daughter Katie is also a USFSP alumna, graduating in 2005 with a degree in journalism.
Family of the Year
The Wells Family
Structural Steel Estimator and Pastor Wayne Wells, his beautiful wife of 45 years, Rhunette Wells, senior pastor of All Nations Church Of God By Faith EPC and loving children Antwaun, Kevin, Wayne, and Hope make up this year’s family of the year.
Wayne worked in the construction industry for decades, retiring last year as part owner of L & D Steel of Florida, LLC. Not only did he excel in his occupation and architectural talents, but he also serves as a teaching pastor at All Nations Church Of God By Faith, located 3000 4th Ave. S.
He conducts Bible study, preaches the Word of God and edifies the body of Christ while positively impacting his local community. He has been a faithful and influential member for more than 34 years. His servanthood has placed him on a mission to build and shape lives the “Carpenter’s way.”
Rhunette worked at Allstate Insurance until she left to raise her growing family. By 1982, the spirit of the Lord called her to be His servant, and she received the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
In 1994, she became a licensed minister, appointed as a youth pastor in 1998, ordained as an elder in 1999 and the senior pastor of All Nations Church in 2014, following in the footsteps of her beloved parents the late Overseers James and Johnnie L. Williams. She continues to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ along with her husband and brother, Pastor Alvin Williams.
Antwaun is the eldest Wells child. He is the husband of Davenia and the father of Tajea. He is a stakeholder in Pinellas County through homeownership and serves as a supervisor for Habitat for Humanity, a barber instructor for American Institute of Beauty, president of Deuces Live, founder of Community Resources and Solutions, Inc. and is a servant of All Nations Church of God by Faith.
Kevin, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, is a graduate of USF College of Engineering and the CEO of Wells Builders. He has four children and said his mission is to serve.
Hope Edwards serves in her parent’s church through involvement with the youth and is a member of the praise and worship team. She is married to Robin Edwards and has three children. She is a tenured employee at Ceridian.
Wayne Rashad serves in the family’s church, the proud father of two children and works for Suddath Relocation Systems.