Gibbs Classes of ’63, ’65 and ’66 held their annual scholarship dance last Fri., Dec. 23 at the Gulfport Casino Ballroom.
BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The Gulfport Casino was bustling with holiday cheer last Friday as several Gibbs High School alumni classes held their yearly scholarship dance. With an estimated 400 partygoers celebrating in the ballroom at 5500 Shore Blvd. S, classmates cut loose on the dance floor while jammin’ out to DJ Bake until the wee hours of the morning.
But although everyone was having a good time, for the past six years the dance has held a purpose greater than just classmates meeting up and reminiscing about old times.
“We decided to join together and make it the scholarship event of the year,” said Melvin Williams, alumni president for the Class of ’65.
At $15 a ticket, that’s some serious money. All participating classes split the dance proceeds evenly and then choose which Gibbs High students, or students of a Gibbs alum, will receive the scholarship. This year three classes participated: the Class of ’63, ’65 and ’66.
“We’re not trying to be the largest party in town,” said Williams, who is proud of his old-school roots and the efforts alumni members go through in order to give back to the community. “I appreciate that we can support others and hopefully give black students a chance to have a career.”
Each alumni class that participates can pick their own criteria, but most stick to the same principles. Having top-notch grades is the first rule of thumb, with most students having a B average or above. However, if a student comes to their attention either through the school, mentoring alumni members or community members and they don’t quite make the grade, exceptions can be made.
“There’s that student who might be on the cusp,” explained Williams, “and if we see potential we will support that as well.”
But all recipients need to have good character and a willingness to succeed to be considered. Proof of acceptance to a college, university or trade school is also required before disbursement, which can vary depending on which class is giving the scholarship.
“Some of us support two or three at a time,” said Williams, who just last year committed to sponsoring a student for four years.
Bob Perry, alumni president for the class of ’63, signed up to help about five years ago. His class picks two deserving seniors a year, awarding them funds after high school graduation. It can be used for anything, but most use it towards their education.
“College is very expensive now so we try to help out with that expense,” said Perry. “Usually each student receives about a $1,000. It’ll help a little bit.”
Gibbs High School is known for having some of the most giving and spirited alumnus; and their generosity don’t just end with scholarships to local youth. All participating classes also donate money each year to the school, whether it is food for the students or walkie talkies for the football team.
“But we do anything to enhance Gibbs,” said Jacquelyne P. Williams, secretary for the Class of ’66. Last year they donated $500 to the athletic department. “We find out what they need money for and that’s what we support.”
Gibbs graduates feel strongly about their school, and members contribute that to the close-knit community of yesteryear.
“That’s one of the positive effects of segregation,” said Perry.
Students of that generation didn’t have a choice where to go to school. In fact, Perry remembers there only being two high schools for black students at that time. If you lived north of the Largo line students attended Pinellas High, but if you lived to the south it was Gibbs all the way.
“Segregation gave us a lot of closeness, and it’s still with us that we take care of Gibbs.”
So with charity beginning at home, students are definitely benefitting from the togetherness of the past. All alumni members feel strongly about enlightening the younger generation, and wanting to see black students succeed in today’s competitive climate. And by giving a helping hand, Perry and other alums hope recipients will understand that they can make something of themselves.
“We want to make sure that we continue to help, so they’ll want to do something with their lives,” said Williams.
Although the dance is over, members of each class are always accepting donations from community members and alumni members alike. Former graduates are also encouraged to give back with their time as well by volunteering at the Gibbs campus.