Last month, Classes Unite, LLC brought back the annual holiday extravaganza with more than 1,000 people descending on the historic Coliseum for a night of dancing, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and of course, raising funds for scholarships.
BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — William Walker said that while he may be a graduate of Lakewood High School, another high school in St. Pete means just as much to him.
His parents attended Gibbs High School, the only school in the city for Black students until 1969. For decades, the Gibbs Class of 1968, the last graduating class before integration, held a fundraiser every year in honor of those times and as a way to continue promoting the importance of education, providing scholarships for African-American youth throughout the city.
The yearly fundraiser was yet another casualty of the pandemic until Walker and his organization, Classes Unite, LLC., decided they wanted to keep the tradition alive.
Last month, the organization brought back the annual holiday extravaganza with more than 1,000 people descending on the historic Coliseum for a night of dancing, catching up with old friends and making new ones, and of course, raising funds for scholarships.
Walker, president of Classes Unite, said he knew taking on the event would be a lot of work, so he wasn’t expecting to raise a considerable amount his first year.
“We raised about $12,000,” the 58-year-old said. “I was thinking we would maybe break even this first year, so I was very happy with what we were able to do.”
Attendees danced the night away to not only a DJ but to the incomparable Shawn Brown Entertainment. Table sponsors came in early and decorated their space to add a fun new element to the event.
“It was really nice to see the tables decorated in all different colors,” Walker said. “It gave the event a unique feel.”
About 20 members of the Gibbs Class of ‘68 attended the event, and Classes Unite took a moment to honor them for starting something that has meant so much to the community for more than 50 years.
“I had always gone to the event over the last 20 years,” stated Walker. “I just wanted to follow in their footsteps.”
He said he could also relate to the class’s heartache when losing several members to COVID since he also lost people close to him.
As for what it took to plan and reignite the event, Walker said it meant a lot of behind-the-scenes planning, but it was easier than he had imagined.
“The hardest part was getting people to realize that we weren’t the Class of ‘68 putting on the event, that we were a new entity,” he said.
And while Walker said he is thrilled with how things turned out, he is already planning for a few tweaks next year.
“It was a semi-formal event, but a few people slipped in with jeans on,” he said. “It was our first year, so we let a few things slide, but we will definitely work on that for next year.”
The organization is also working on 501c3 status so that anyone can donate for a tax deduction. For more information on Classes Unite, email the organization at ClassesUnite@gmail.com.