Seventh president of St. Petersburg College, Dr. Tonjua Williams
ST. PETERSBURG — Just one day after the board of St. Petersburg College (SPC) anointed her the seventh president of St. Petersburg College, Dr. Tonjua Williams was welcomed into an intimate celebration with a dozen and a half women who’d been her quiet prayer warriors for months, ever since Dr. Bill Law announced his resignation from the post in November of last year.
Informally dubbed the “Sister Circle,” these women knew Dr. Williams had diligently trained for nearly a decade toward the possibility of one day assuming the presidency of a post-secondary institution.
They knew she was imminently qualified for such a post.
What they didn’t know was whether Dr. Williams would make it to the top of a list of dozens of candidates of like caliber, who would vie in the months-long process to select SPC’s new leader.
On May 31, the sisters’ prayers were answered, along with scores of others who hoped for history.
One of the Sister Circle founders, Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, director of the city’s Urban Affairs division and long-time volunteer leader of the region’s minority business community, suggested the group rally behind Dr. Williams’ bid for the top job at SPC.
“So many community advocates supported Dr. Williams, and we were delighted to quickly bring together some of the women who walked the journey with her,” Capehart proudly noted.
Together with Dr. Williams’ church sisters at Mt. Zion Progressive, members of the National Council of Negro Women, and other closest supporters, the group gathered for an elegant “blessing session” on June 1 at St. Pete Beach’s Hotel Zamora.
Dr. Linda Hogans of SPC offered an opening prayer sprinkled with tears of joy. Then, the new president sat with sister professionals in velvet chairs arranged in a circle to share some of her personal testimony.
By the end of the two-hour fellowship, the sentiment was unanimous: “We must continue this!” said Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers, who’d submitted a lengthy letter of endorsement of Dr. Williams.
“Sisters supporting sisters is an energy we need more of,” said Deborah Figgs-Sanders, who recently left her role as executive director of the Childs Park YMCA to launch her own consulting firm, Personal Agenda LLC. She will take the lead in hosting the next Sister Circle session.
Octogenarian Dr. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich was in town for the occasion after recently taking part in the National Black Women’s Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. She pressed the group to “continue doing this! Dr. Williams will need the broad-based support of community and city leaders to excel in her role.” Dr. Scruggs-Leftwich attended with her St. Petersburg-based assistant Geraldina Ward.
Tahisia Scantling, CEO of Crossroads Consulting and a senior business consultant with the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation, made note, “We don’t often share in moments like this. I was deeply honored to be part of this network.”
Also on hand for the event were Theresa Jones, retired director of Community Affairs for the City of St. Petersburg; Keisha Bell, a practicing attorney and board member with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg; Dr. Katurah Jenkins-Hall, a psychologist, president of Legacy 56, and also a board member with the Foundation; Loretta Calvin, chairperson of Impact St Pete and CEO of Monroe Strategic Business Solutions; Gwen Hicks, Dr. Williams’ long-time executive assistant at the college; Dr. Faye Golden and renowned artist Ya Laford.
Ever modest, Capehart recognized fellow Sister Circle Founders as catalysts. “Keisha Bell, Ya LaFord, Dr. Tonjua Williams and Gypsy Gallardo put their hearts into supporting the concept that ‘you are us, and we are you.’ We want more women inspired to dream and to do it by lifting one another up.”