The First Ladies Society was formed to foster the Woodson African American Museum of Florida vision, including providing fundraising support. Their inaugural event added $150,000 to its capital campaign.
BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — After years of celebrating African-American women blazing trails in Pinellas County, the ladies the Woodson African American Museum of Florida began to honor nearly a decade ago decided to return the favor.
Recently, about 40 of the women came together to join the First Ladies Society. This elite organization is made up of African-American women the museum has honored over the years as the “first” in their field.
The group was formed to foster the museum’s vision, including providing fundraising support. The Society’s inaugural event was the Jazz Juneteenth Jubilee, a concert and lawn party featuring local musicians and some on a national or international scale. The fundraiser marked the Society’s first event in support of the museum.
More than 1,000 attendees gathered at the waterfront Mahaffey Theater to hear music from Nathan Mitchell and Friends, Marcus Anderson and Glenn Jones. Local saxophonist Jordan Bolds and vocalist Theo Valentin also performed.
Eventgoers were asked to wear all white, and the table and linens gave everyone a chance to add their own personalized décor to create a unique dining experience.
Executive Director Terri Lipsey-Scott said the event was a success, and the First Ladies Society has been an excellent addition to the museum.
“The fundraiser was a sold-out crowd,” Lipsey-Scott exclaimed. “Their efforts rendered the presentation of a check to the museum’s capital campaign fundraising in the amount of $150,000.”
The Woodson is in the middle of raising money to construct a new state-of-the-art building that would be the first newly constructed landmark museum in Florida dedicated to celebrating African-American history, art, and culture.
The museum began celebrating African-American women in 2014, with the inaugural class including such trailblazers as Dr. Kanika Tomalin for being the first African-American female deputy mayor in the City of St. Petersburg, and Manitia Moultrie for being the first African-American female environmental scientist/engineer in the State of Florida.
Throughout the years, we’ve seen such firsts as Ya La’Ford for being St. Pete’s first national/international African-American female artist to create an installation exhibit; Patricia Alsup for being the first lady in African-American history to serve as a United States Ambassador to the Republic of The Gambia and Lieutenant Commander Jeanine McIntosh Menze for being the first Black female aviator in the 215-year history of the U.S. Coast Guard.
In 2017, Dr. Tonjua Williams shattered the glass ceiling, becoming the first African-American and female president of St. Petersburg College, and becoming a First Lady in 2018. It was her idea for the Society, and several other first ladies joined the effort, and the organization was born.
Crystal Pruitt, a group member recognized as the first African-American president of the Florida Government Communications Association, said the organization is comprised of women who want to work together to increase awareness of the beauty and richness of the African-American community.
“The Society encompasses a group of thought leaders committed to enriching and sustaining African-American culture through art and history,” she said.
Moultrie, who serves as the Society’s co-chair for the capital campaign, said she is excited about the role and being a member of the organization.
“I am honored to take on this important role of leadership as we pursue museum equity while telling and showcasing the untold stories of Black excellence that have escaped the history books for centuries,” Moultrie said.
Founded in 2006, Lipsey-Scott said initiatives such as the First Ladies Society make the museum a great place to work.
“I just love the opportunity to celebrate Black excellence,” Scott said.
Her commitment to the museum and now the newly formed Society comes from a need to ensure that there is equity in telling the story of Black people.
“I wanted to work for the museum to address the absence of equity in our community, county, and state regarding the absence of a Black history museum that was constructed to properly house the stories and artifacts of those who made this nation great.”
The Woodson African American Museum of Florida is located at 2240 9th Ave. S. To learn more about the museum, exhibits, and the First Lady Society, visit www.woodsonmuseum.org or call 727-323-1104.