In 2014, Emma Cavin (center) was honored for her contributions to not only the Zeta Phi Sorority, but also to their communities throughout the years.
ST. PETERSBURG — Longtime educator and Weekly Challenger columnist, Emma Cooper-Bryant Cavin, passed away April 28.
Dec. 17, 1965, was the last day at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) for Mrs. Emma. Twenty-four days later, she began her career as an educator at Booker High School in Sarasota. It was a marvelous beginning as a teacher of Spanish for grades 9-12, English for grade 10, and one of the trainers/sponsors of the drama club.
She was a professional! Mrs. Emma even bought a brand-new car — white with blue interior! Zeta colors, of course, since she had also become a member of that organization earlier that year.
In addition to earning a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Science degree from FAMU, Mrs. Emma went on to the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, and the University of Central Florida for further studies in education, reading and journalism.
She was the recipient of a Mellon Fellowship to prepare for Advanced Placement instruction. The Master of Science degree in Administration and Supervision was awarded to Mrs. Emma by Nova Southeastern University in 1979.
During her 36 years as a Pinellas County Schools employee, she worked at 16th Street and Pinellas Park Junior Highs, Gibbs Senior High (21 years), Lakewood Community School (16 years), Pinellas Technical Education Center, Mirror Lake/Tomlinson Center, and St. Petersburg College. For two years, she served as an assistant principal at Azalea Middle School.
Additional service included work on Pinellas County’s Curriculum Writing Committees and on the Florida State Department of Education’s Test Writing Committee, while she also served as a state testing proctor. Later work included the Academy Prep Education Center as the Language Arts coordinator and instructor for the upper grades. St. Petersburg College and USF utilized her skills in the College Reach-Out Program as a coordinator/mentor, a summer program instructor in journalism, and an adjunct instructor in composition I and college reading.
She was affiliated with professional organizations, including the National Education Association, National, Florida, and Pinellas Councils of Teachers of English, Pinellas County Speech Association, Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, Pinellas County Journalism Teachers Association, National Association of Black Journalists, and the National Notary Association.
Community associations include the Program Service Committee for the Florida Bay Chapter of The March of Dimes; patient/family volunteer and contract volunteer trainer for the Suncoast Hospice, American Business Women’s Association, some work with the Sickle Cell Foundation, NCNW, NAACP, and a number of community tutoring programs.
She wrote articles for magazines, journals, local newspapers and was a regular staff writer for The Weekly Challenger, with stories spotlighting local citizens of all ages.
A 50-year member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, Mrs. Emma was inducted into the Zeta Hall of Fame in 2007. Records indicate that she served the organization as an officer and committee member on local, state, regional, and national levels.
As a National Youth Director from 1996 through 2010, she and the co-directors developed youth strategies that revolutionized the entire youth program. From 1986 through 2002, she also served as the Youth Coordinator for the state of Florida.
Many weekends were used to present workshops in writing, speaking, and test-taking skills. Other work with Zeta included fundraising, tutoring, mentoring, working with adults who sponsor youth groups or performing as “Zora Neale Hurston” in a one-woman show.
Numerous plaques, certificates, and other awards were bestowed upon Mrs. Emma for community service and leadership over the past 50 years. Each time an award was given, it caused her to think about events that happened, advice that was given, or lessons she learned in her youth that prepared her for the specific tasks or services being acknowledged.
Schools, churches, hospice, The March of Dimes Program Service Committee, Florida Department of Education, the Elk’s Lodge, sororities, fraternities, and youth organizations had honored her and given her walls, notebooks, and tables full of mementos to remind her of the very best times of her life — those times when she not only heard the call to lead and serve but enthusiastically joined in with others to make things happen.
God’s place in her life is what Mrs. Emma saw as the reason for the course her life followed. Her parents, both ministers, taught her to believe in and rely on God for direction.
In St. Petersburg, Mrs. Emma attended Southside Tabernacle Baptist Church, where she worked with the education department, the Sunday School department, the Women’s Ministry, and Faith In Action (a faith-based component of hospice).
Family dinners, reunions, and trips across the country for visits brought her much joy, just as important as the visits with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She was the mother of Zeta Soror, Benita Swanson Hubbard and Brenna Swanson Grover. She had eight siblings, many sister-cousins, sister-friends, phone-buddies, and a beloved black cat named Ebonie, who will forever cherish her memory.
The funeral service was held on Monday, May 10, at Southside Tabernacle Baptist Church.