Being a black woman in America

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor:

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

This famous quote by Malcolm X is finding its way back into pop culture as a response to the attacks on black women by public officials and entertainers alike. Beyonce, on her 2016 album “Lemonade,” references the quote and uses her album as a platform to highlight the pleasures and pain associated with being a black woman in America.

The quote reignited again for me last week after the historical appointment of Dr. Tonjua Williams as the next president of St. Petersburg College (SPC). The quote came into my spirit as a result of some of the comments received regarding Dr. Williams’ appointment.

It was difficult to ascertain her ability to do the job primarily because some sidebar comments ranged from her likability to who she was friends with and other pettiness that had very little to do with the vetting of her educational credentials and 30 years of experience within the community college culture.

This very shallow and oftentimes mean-spirited commentary has often resulted in women, and particularly women of color, being refused opportunities simply because God made them women and then had the gall to make some of us black and brown.

Never was I more proud to hear that trustee member Deveron Gibbons rejected criticisms that he was friends with Dr. Williams but focused on her education and her professional experience at SPC.

St. Petersburg is, by all means, a very homogenous community for people of color. We are either related by blood, marriage or other linkages that are very important to the African culture.  Most often even if there is no blood linkage, we simply operate as family!

This cultural reality can’t be used as a disqualifying factor for those of us who are blessed to ascend to positions such as Deveron where we are positioned to potentially support the appointment of someone that you may have known through the years.

His responsibility, and any other public official, has to be clear on their organization’s missions, clear on its challenges and regardless of the candidate’s race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, must begin to focus on the skills and competencies one needs to get the job done.

SPC, like all other major community colleges, has some challenges ahead of them. Therefore, a very reasonable Board of Trustees had to consider was the individual’s learning curve was to the college’s culture.  In most public arenas, it can take years to change a culture to get the results needed to claim success.

Dr. Williams’ success will be based on her ability to corral her internal partners, external partners and students around a strategy that increase student enrollment and garners significant funding for the college. The end!

Her success will not and should not be centered on individual personal likes or dislikes, relationships to board members or anyone else for that matter.

On another day during another time, Deveron could have easily acquiesced to the typical disrespect of Dr. Williams simply because she is an African-American woman. He did not, so kudos to Dr. Williams and kudos to Deveron for standing up and holding on to his support of her.

Maria L. Scruggs, President, St. Petersburg Branch NAACP

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