BY CINDY CARTER, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Just in time for the beginning of a new school year, the St. Petersburg College (SPC) Midtown campus is officially open for enrollment, and local residents and community officials couldn’t be happier.
“We want you to stay and celebrate with us as long as you can,” said Dr. Kevin Gordon, Provost to SPC Downtown and Midtown campuses.
The rain certainly didn’t stop the more than 1,500 people who showed up from having fun. Entertainment was everywhere and so was the free Boss Ross BBQ. From the Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Choir to the sounds of African Soukous music by Amandla Tunesmith and everything in between, the energy was high and the 45,000-square-foot, state-of-the art center was rockin’!
“Nothing better than this,” said Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter who came to show her support for the event and the opening of the Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Midtown Center. “We need this.”
Lassiter credits herself for putting a bug in the ear of the SPC President Dr. William Law to get college services in the area that is seeing an upswing in revitalization.
“I told Dr. Law: ‘Go to the city and instead of building apartments or houses, give us the college,’” she said.
Located at 1048 22nd St. S., the creation of the Midtown campus didn’t happen overnight; in fact, the whole jump-start to the Midtown community started some five mayors ago with former Mayor Bob Ulrich. Each mayor since has had a hand in breathing life back into the community.
“I can’t even tell you all the countless hours we spent together dreaming about this stuff,” said SPC Board of Trustees Member Deveron Gibbons. He’s speaking of his powwows with former Mayor Rick Baker and former St. Petersburg Police Chief and Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis. “And now it’s come to fruition.”
It was an emotional day for many. Gibbons was quite loquacious reminiscing about the early days when the 22nd Street South Corridor, which once was bustling with energy and business, stood empty and forgotten.
“There was nothing there,” he said. But they knew what had to be done. Key officials, businesses and concerned citizens banded together to bring restaurants and services to the area.
“Things don’t happen in four or five years,” said Gibbons. “Sometimes you roll a ball up the hill and then it falls back and you roll it up again.”
Today the 14 million dollar Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr. Midtown Center is fully operational and has already begun empowering the people to take notice. “They showed me the tree house and the science lab,” said Lassiter. “I cried.”
The afternoon continued with many speeches touting the historical significance of the day. Current students gave speeches highlighting the positive influence SPC has had on their lives.
Alexis Clavizzao is a current student and president of the Student Government Association at the Downtown campus. With one year under her belt, Clavizzao credits SPC with giving her hope and building her self-esteem.
“Before beginning here I had no real aspirations,” she said. Clavizzao feels SPC has brought out the best in her and praises her instructors and the staff for pushing her to give her all. “I had no idea what I was actually capable of.”
The unique college experience that SPC has given to thousands of students at their campuses all around Pinellas County is sure to be repeated at the Midtown location.
Set on changing lives, SPC offers degrees and certificates in an array of fields. From a typical Associate of Arts Degree to more specialized Associate of Science Degrees, SPC has something for everyone. Bachelor Degrees are offered in areas such as biology, education, nursing, veterinary medicine and many more.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman called Dr. Law an amazing leader and showed great appreciation for his vision and confidence in the Midtown community. “The turnout we see here is really a testament to the importance of this day,” said Kriseman as he pointed out the various businesses in the area that were not in existence even two years ago. “It was a place people drove to and not just by and I think that’s the case again.”
Grand opening sponsor Duke Energy even got a chance to give a shout out. CEO Alex Glenn poked some good-natured fun at Gibbons extensive speech, but kept his short and to the point. “This is the front porch of the community,” he said. “This is going to be the new thread that ties this community together.”
But Dr. Law summed it up best as he looked out at the crowd patiently listening for everyone to have their say. “The real heroes and the thanks is to those of you parents who brought your kids here today,” he said.
Law sees this as a positive step to the future. He envisions families walking past the campus every day and coming to view it as a place of honor and of significance. A place where their children will call home come college time.
Dr. Law has been a president for a total of 27 years at various institutions, but feels emotionally connected to SPC Midtown. “With the community response today, I am increasingly convinced this will be the best day of my entire career,” he said.
Six men were awarded honorary Bachelor of Arts in College and Community Services degrees in recognition of their outstanding service and support:
- Joseph Lang, SPC Board of Trustees attorney, was awarded one for his strong advocacy in making SPC Midtown a reality.
- Reverend Louis Murphy Sr., senior pastor of Mt. Zion Progressive, for the important role he has played in the revitalization to the Midtown community.
- Reverend Clarence Williams, senior pastor of Greater Mt. Zion AME Church, for his willingness to work for the best interests of the Midtown community.
- Reverend Wayne Thompson, senior pastor of First Baptist Institutional Church, for his continued advocacy in education, always stressing the need to stay in school until your goals are achieved.
- Dr. Goliath Davis for his continued voice in the best welfare of residents, especially the Midtown area.
- Bruce Grimes, Real Estate and Property Management director for the City of St. Petersburg, for carefully and successfully leading the way through the planning of the Jamerson building.