Connect with Carla B: Arts advocate, activist and Youth Farm’s manager’s new podcast

BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – Carla Bristol’s name and spirit have become emblematic of what “community change-maker” means in St. Pete. You will see her in rooms throughout the city along with other stakeholders, artists, youth advocates and any number of community-led efforts.

An activist in its truest sense, her impact has continued to evolve through various efforts and initiatives, and her new podcast, “Connect with Carla B,” is her latest mode of unearthing the people involved in making culture in Tampa Bay.

“For years, I’ve been talking about doing something with all this knowledge I’ve accumulated about community building,” she explained. “Finally, around Mother’s Day weekend, I launched the podcast. I realized I wanted to talk about the importance of connections.”

For Bristol, community building is a practiced art, and she hopes the podcast gives listeners insight into the arts, politics and culture of Tampa Bay and serves as an example of how and why community building happens.

By birth, Bristol was born in Guyana and migrated with her family to Brooklyn, New York, at 11. She moved to St. Petersburg in 1996 after a giant snowstorm convinced her she needed to live in warm weather; both her children were born here.

Once here, she continued a successful career in the corporate world, “I was a six-figure woman!” But she soon realized something was missing.

“In New York, I was on lunch break feeding the homeless and had programs at my corporate office for teens with Children’s Aid Society. Then, I came to Florida, and I realized I wasn’t doing the same thing,” she said, referring to her advocacy work. She wondered, “How will my kids know how to value things outside of money?” 

She began holding her annual Success Brunch for Women to network with other professionals from diverse backgrounds, including keynote speakers and her own BABE (Be A Blessing Every Day) initiative. She also profoundly considered a question that all the brunch attendees were asked to consider: “What would you rather be doing?”

After joining the community effort going on to save the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum (now the Woodson African American Museum of Florida) in Jordan Park, not long after, she started thinking about how to help bring more Black art and culture to St. Pete.

She had already been teaching her children about purchasing Black artists’ work, so she saw it as an outreach of her desire to instill a love for art in other Black children.

Bristol acknowledged that “For me, being able to open the gallery, and have great artists that look like us and bring imagery that looks like us in the heart of a community” was necessary.

She opened Gallerie 909 in 2014 on the Deuces and, by 2016, had expanded her vision to include the first Black Arts & Film Festival with visual artists, musicians and filmmakers such as DreamMakerz Productions founders Jabaar Edmond and Cranstan Cumberbatch. She also lent her voice and vision to CDAT’s Tampa Bay Breakfast Club internet radio talk program.

Eventually, she moved Gallerie 909 to the Skyway Marina District in 2017 and moved once more to 49th Street. While she had become one of the innovators of art in the region, the universe was calling her to a new way to impact youth and St. Pete at large.

When the City of St. Petersburg, the Pinellas Education Foundation and Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg supported a pilot program to address food insecurity in St. Pete through the St. Pete Youth Farm project in 2019, Bristol was hired to be its collaboration manager.

Since then, the Youth Farm has blossomed into an impactful, community-led initiative that has joined hundreds of neighborhood youths, seniors, civic leaders, educators, and social impact organizations together for positive change.

With Bristol at the helm, USF St. Pete has helped start a hydroponic/aquaponic greenhouse at the farm, along with programs like the Sidewalk Community Garden, Community Compost Drop Off, and Mini Garden Project. The Community Chicken Coop Project is also on its way to becoming a reality.

However, at the center of the Youth Farm is the work Bristol does weekly with ten to twenty area teens who come from St. Pete high schools and earn wages to learn to work the farm. While the opportunity to grow the land is life-changing, Bristol also takes care of her young “angels” deeper needs.

She has instituted “Mental Health Mondays” to help them navigate the complex life challenges confronting our youth today and is a den mother of sorts who spends additional off-hours with her youth farm workers as well.

While her interests are varied, at the core, she acknowledges that she is still “Carla from Guyana” – acutely aware of economics, community health and wellbeing, and social justice. In her newest project, she’s looking to share what she’s learned about community building and some of those she’s worked alongside.

Her new podcast series, “Connect with Carla B,” allows listeners to learn more about Tampa Bay’s arts, people, politics, culture, and community in a laid-back format over YouTube or on Spotify.

“Connecting with Carla B” includes interviews with local legislators Michele Rayner Goolsby and Rene Flowers, arts makers including Bob Devin Jones, Erica Sutherlin, Chris Roberts aka Brain The Genius, health professional Dr. LaDonna Butler, entrepreneur Jason Bryant and others with more on the way.

For Bristol, it’s another form of activism that allows her to continue her work with St. Pete Youth Farm while also offering another example of how, even as our communities feel more fragile, in need, and often isolating post-COVID, we can always find new ways to exchange information, share insights, and build bridges.

“I want to be able to talk with and further explore what it means to be connected with people and how that benefits us as a community. Hopefully, through people listening, they can learn to start creating connections on their own.”

For more information, follow Carla Bristol on Instagram @connectwithcarlab.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top