Dr. Kanika Tomalin
BY INDHIRA SUERO ACOSTA, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG —At every step along Dr. Kanika Tomalin’s career, there has been a scarcity of people who looked like her —whether that was an African American or a woman.
Those factors, however, have never stopped her from achieving her goals. Nowadays, she’s recognized as the first African-American female to become deputy mayor of the City of St. Pete.
Dr. Kanika Tomalin, first African-American female deputy mayor in the City of St. Petersburg considers that equality needs to apply to both women and men
Besides her career in politics, Tomalin served as the regional vice president of External Affairs for the Bayfront Health Network and director of strategy for Health Management Associates’ Florida Group. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism, earned an MBA and a doctorate.
During her years working in the healthcare industry, she was under the supervision of a female chief executive officer. That experience was a confirmation of the importance of having diverse perspectives around the decision-making table.
“With time and commitment to progress on policies that demand inclusion and accountability, we’ll see more [examples],” Tomalin said. “You can see it in the aspirations of students. Where they choose to go to school, the path they’re choosing to explore, the fact that they’re choosing to make St. Pete their home. It’s a good trajectory and forecast for African-American women as a whole in our community.”
According to Tomalin, black women do amazing things as the contributions of this generation are defined. There’s also the responsibility to carry a heavy load on many levels while proving that they’re up to the task.
She highlights a nurturing network of professional black women in St. Petersburg who make a point to reach out to each other, support and invest in the social capital required for career success. These women look for opportunities and the ability to increase and enhance their capacities and optimize their experiences.
Tomalin also considers that opportunity is becoming a more accessible reality.
For too long in our city, the most elite opportunities were confined to a small group–well known or prominent African Americans,” she said. “As we become more progressive, people in power recognize the contribution of the African-American women and men across the board regardless of their background or specific upbringing.”
Tomalin thinks that younger black women have an opportunity to forge their best path in St. Pete. As she puts it, they don’t need to leave the place they grew up in to realize their opportunities and full potential.
“Us who are adults, [are the ones] charged with shepherding them and helping them find their way,” she said.
It is also relevant, from her perspective, to direct the programs run by the city that are designed to enrich the lives of young people, such as summer youth employment, after-school employment and mentoring.
“We have a lot of focus on African-American young men. [For example] a new program called Cohort of Champions that’s working on intersecting potential tragedies for our African-American young men, which is one of [the] chief concerns of African-American women,” she said.
The deputy mayor considers that by taking a more comprehensive approach, black women need to do as much as they can to ensure success for black men as well.
From Tomalin’s point of view, there are, without question, defined struggles specific to the African-American experience for women. For example, the lengths and filters that are applied to them by others. Many times discriminated against, they still have a particular struggle to help people see them in this time and place.
“Many people who are not African American, particularly in the South, need to see African-American women differently, in the context of today,” she said.
That is still a constant struggle. Tomalin thinks that a brighter future is very workable, but it takes continuous work.
“I come to work every day to help engineer a city of opportunities. I hope that everyone who calls St. Pete home feels that sense of hope and a brighter tomorrow. I have a particular investment in that being the case for African-American women,” Tomalin averred.
It’s also imperative that black women have a place in the city’s growth that is sustainable.
“The work that we do, the outreach that happens every day is what will determine whether or not the city does what’s right by the African-American women who call it home,” she said with her voice full of hope.
This story is part of a 50-article series honoring black women in the Tampa Bay area.