ST. PETERSBURG – Single parenthood is cited for being one of the main reasons why children fail school, but not for Annita Watkins who had two of three children while still a teenager. With a resolute attitude, she defied the odds and refused to become a statistic.
All three of her children have achieved great academic success. Her set of twins—30-year-old Shavon Jamiah Gibson and Spencer Jeremiah Gibson, IV— always excelled academically and participated in extracurricular activities.
They both graduated cum laude from Largo High School in 2004. In their senior year, Spencer won homecoming king and was named Mr. Largo High and Mr. 21st Century, and Shavon was crowned prom queen and awarded the humanitarian award.
Their academic success didn’t stop in high school either. Shavon has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida in Health Services Administration and Spencer, after receiving an associate of arts degree from St. Petersburg College, obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in Health Sciences and is now pursuing a master’s degree.
The youngest daughter, Amaya Michelle Carter, attends the medical magnet program at Boca Ciega High School and is also a member of the student ROTC.
Watkins herself was born to a teen mother and is the youngest of 10 siblings. She explained that though she was not homeless, her home environment with her mom was at times erratic and an emotional rollercoaster.
She vowed that her children would not face the same issues that she experienced. “I knew that I had to do something different as a teen mom,” Watkins said.
She felt that education was the pathway to success and wanted to ensure that her children took advantage of every opportunity possible. One of her main concerns was that she did not want her children switched from school to school, as she found different housing arraignments.
Watkins reached out to friends and associates who worked for the school system to help her obtain information for a special permit to keep the kids in one school. She even put her social life on the back burner because she “didn’t want them to see different men in and out of my life.”
On and off of public assistance for 10 years, the family lived paycheck to paycheck. However, Watkins did not let her situation discourage her. She obtained a GED, enrolled in Pinellas Technical Education Center, now known as Pinellas Technical College, and got certifications in patient care, nursing assistance and medical assisting
Now a patient access service representative, she has enjoyed 16 years of employment at Bay Front Health St. Petersburg. In 2004, she became a proud homeowner with the help Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas.
Leading by example, Watkins showed her children that it is not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.
“She always worked for everything she had,” Shavon said. “She told us to always keep moving forward.” Shavon is now a youth specialist at Artz 4 Life Academy.
“She continually had to work to provide for us,” Spencer said. “She had a never- give-up attitude.” He is currently a student lab technician in the pathology reagent lab at the University of Iowa Hospital.
Amaya proudly said her mom is very caring and loving. “She puts herself out for other people,” she said. “My mom is my best friend.”
Watkins has a message for young girls who are in a similar situation she found herself in some 30 years ago: “Don’t give up on life,” she urged. “Don’t get stuck in government housing and welfare, and don’t give up on your children.”