“Keep God first, always pray, don’t look down on family or children and be positive,” is the credo of Eva Randall, an administrative assistant at Pinellas County Schools who spent her whole life in the AME church.
BY INDHIRA SUERO ACOSTA, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Eva Randall, 51, grew up in the church. In a particular way with her gestures and how she expresses herself, people can tell she is a woman of faith.
Listen to Audio Clip
Ever since the arrival of her mother from Omaha, Ga., to St. Petersburg in 1955 to join Greater Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), God marked Randall’s destiny. Just as she remembers: “if you were living in my mom and dad’s household, you had to go to church.”
That way of parenting built her up to become the woman she is today. She’s been working as a preschool teacher for 23 years, proudly sings with the group Voices of Praise, works as an assistant and superintendent for the church’s school and is also in the dance ministry. According to her, she just tries to help around as much as she can.
“My mom also taught me the power of prayer. As a youngster, I didn’t know how important that would be until I became an adult. [During] life trials and situations, prayer was a huge part that helped me get through those things,” she said.
She remembers when she used to participate in the Young People Division in the AME church. As a timid, young girl, the group offered her the opportunity to meet new people and participate in conferences, which also helped her grow a confident personality.
As an adult, Randall enjoys the spiritual part of the church. She is easily found in one of the Greater Mt. Zion seats during any given Sunday morning service. Perhaps wearing long, eye-catching earrings or donning bright red lipstick while listening to the music, getting the Word from Rev. Clarence Williams or one of the associate ministers, and then, applying the learned lesson of that day to her existence.
“In life, everything is not perfect, so people come to church to get the Word to be able to make it along the way,” she said while opening her bible to the book of Ecclesiastes.
Rock in a weary land
Historically for African Americans, the church has represented a place of protection. In St. Pete, segregation forced most “black” churches to the south side of town. There’s a reason why Ninth Avenue South is known as the Bible belt.
For Randall, the importance of faith goes back to the harsh times of the civil rights era, and nowadays her faith keeps her strong through the heavyweight of businesses closing and a failing educational system in Pinellas County.
That is why she believes in just not only the minister preaching in the pulpit but being a part of a community of faith. She feels that every believer should be helping, feeding the hungry or giving out free clothes.
Randall is worried about the lack of connection between the churches, mainly because in the past they were more united.
“They got away from that, I don’t know why. I guess sometimes you can be caught up in your own church,” she said. “It has nothing to do with denomination. We all serve the same God, so it doesn’t matter.”
Another issue that concerns her is the fact that men in the churches still discriminate against women who decide to join the ministry. According to the Bethel AME Church —the first of its denomination in the nation— the word “mother” was added in 1953 to the church’s name and women “were permitted to participate in the business of the church corporation for the first time.”
She feels that God uses everybody to preach his word and there should not be inequality among his believers.
“I think being a black woman, [the biggest challenge is] money. I taught preschool for 23 years and I never really got paid what I was worth,” she said. “I had to get out of that and I work in a public school now, and I’m still not getting well paid.”
Besides feeding the soul on Sunday mornings, Randall — who became a vegan three months ago — believes the African-American community in St. Pete should be able to obtain healthy and nutritious food. She waits for the day when the south side can be filled with groceries stores that can function and stay put in the community.
“Everybody says that the mayor [should fix the food problem] but I think that we as African Americans, we know what we want in our community. We should be able to come together, and that’s where the breakdown is,” she said. “We need to come up together as a solution.”
Randall visits the local library with her husband on Saturdays. She enjoys flipping through the pages of books and entering the universe of silence and peace that only a place like that gives her.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our African-American children don’t want to read,” she said, her voice overcome with emotion. “Reading takes you to higher heights. People can’t take knowledge from you, but they can take things from you.”
Randall’s motto is to keep God first, always pray, don’t look down on family or children and be positive.
“I was at the gym for an hour and 45 minutes today; I was happy about that. I don’t say that every day I do good, but then I get up the next day and start over again. “That’s life,” she said with a grin spread across her face.
This story is part of a 50-article series honoring black women in the Tampa Bay area.