African American Heritage Celebration honoring local heroes

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee (PCDEC) held their second African American Heritage Celebration Sat., Feb. 27. This year’s honorees are trailblazers in the community who exemplified strength and courage, Clarence Givens and Eugene Danzey (posthumously).

Held at the Magnuson Marina Cove Hotel, the dynamic duo of Rene Flowers and Corey Givens, Jr. acted as Mistress and Master of Ceremonies. With their humor and energy, they kept the program moving at a brisk pace.

The PCDEC is an entity of the Florida Democratic Party, and is the official governing body of the Democratic Party at the county level. Last year during Black History Month, they honored Rev. Alvin Miller and the board of the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.

“This month we’ve had a lot of attention on our national leaders, but just as they say that all politics are local, all real activism starts in the community,” said Susan McGrath, chair of PCDEC.

She went on to express how important it is to celebrate their lives and talk about them so that generations to come “will know about the people who have paved the path for us.”

Clarence Cedric Givens

A St. Petersburg native, Givens was educated in segregated Pinellas County Schools, graduating from Gibbs High School in 1946. Immediately following his high school graduation, he enrolled at Florida A&M. It was there he was initiated into his beloved Beta Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in 1947.

He went on to obtain his Bachelors of Science degree, majoring in Industrial Education in 1950. He was one of the first African Americans to graduate from the University of Florida with a master’s degree in educational counseling in 1964.

Givens worked for the Pinellas County School system for some 40 years. He was a teacher and counselor at Sixteenth Street Junior High School, a counselor for St. Petersburg Vocational Technical Institute and a counselor and administrator for Pinellas Countywide Career Education Special Projects.

In 1962, he was a founding member of Theta Eta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the founder of Alpha Leadership Program for Higher Achievement in School, Inc. in 1978 and a founding member of Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students in 2001 (COQEBS).

Dr. Ricardo Davis, president of COQEBS, said that Givens worked tirelessly in education, earning the nickname of the “Godfather of black student academic achievement in Pinellas County.” As a board member emeritus of COQEBS, he still makes sure they are running smoothly at 88 years of age.

“Mr. Givens worries about things like did we get the notice out for the next meeting at Enoch Davis or if arrangements were made for the meeting room. I said, ‘Brother Givens, we got it under control don’t worry about it.’”

Watson Haynes, President & CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League, said no matter what was going on in Givens’ life, he was always front and center in the battle for equality in education.

“He stood the test and he’s made us feel good by being in his presence,” said Haynes.

“How in the world did the man find all of this time to do all of this while raising four children, being and husband, an educator and activist? He’s been so much to so many people,” expressed his nephew Givens, Jr.

After having a hip replacement, experiencing a fall, suffering a broken shoulder and a facial fracture last year, he was hesitant about attending the celebration in his honor. But with the help of his son Roderick, Givens made his way up to the podium to say a few words.

Explaining that his career was spent behind the scenes fighting discrimination and racial injustices throughout Pinellas County Schools, he said he made it his life’s passion advocating on behalf of those who could not stand and be heard on their own.

“The work that I have done for this community was not out of a desire for recognition, rather it was done for one simple reason—it was the right thing to do.”

Givens implored everyone in attendance to carry on the work that he has done or to create and use their own unique talents to help the deserving youth of this community.

Jake Eugene “Gene” Danzey

Born in Alford, Fla., and reared in Tampa, Eugene Danzey graduated from Middleton High School and attended St. Petersburg Junior College. In 1963 while employed as a chef, he took a sales job at WTMP Radio, at the time the only major broadcaster in the Tampa Bay area aimed at a black audience.

He was promoted to general manager in 1970, but he did not want to run a radio station, he wanted to own one. In 1975, Danzey launched WRXB 1590 AM licensed for St. Pete Beach. The station broadcasted gospel and R&B from Sarasota to Tampa, including popular musicians who had not cracked the mainstream charts. It also gave Tampa Bay its first black-owned radio station.

He hired his son Michael and daughter Valorie to work alongside nearly a dozen former co-workers from WTMP. After a decade on the air, WRXB expanded to a 24-hour format.

Danzey meanwhile helped create business opportunities for minorities, becoming the first official chair of the Pinellas County Urban League and president of the St. Petersburg Economic Development Corp. He donated airtime to nonprofit groups and to help the St. Petersburg Police Department hire more black officers. His generosity with radio time went a long way toward changing recruiting and hiring efforts.

The station also magnetized politicians—many of whom were elected based on their ability to get their message out on the radio waves.

WRXB was sold by the Danzey family in 1998, and he passed away on May 29, 2012, after contending with Alzheimer’s.

Known for always dressing up in a suit and tie with a pocket square to boot, he was also known for being a family man.

“One thing I’d like for you to know about him aside from his accomplishments as a community leader and businessman, he was a wonderful father,” said daughter Valorie Danzey Garner. “He was one of those dads who was carting kids to football practice and picking up a bunch of sweaty boys from football practice and attending games. He was an all-around good dad. He was a great role model.”

He instilled in his children humility and that everyone deserves attention. Danzey Garner said as a child and an adult, they never had to ask him for anything. “If he saw something that you needed, he did it. That’s how he lived his life in the community by filling the need. He saw a need in St. Pete and he filled it the best way he knew how.”

His son and daughter came to town expressly to receive the honor for their father.

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