It was a Gentleman’s Welcome and beyond on the first day of school for Franklin Park students. Flanked on both sides of the driveway from the entrance gate to the front of the school, students were greeted by City, Fire and Police officials, fraternities, sororities and a host of community leaders and residents.
More than 100 gathered for the annual "Gentleman's Welcome" to make the first day of school a special one for parents and students as they entered campus grounds. While most arrived in an assembly line of cars, passing waving well-wishers along the way, others came on bikes, arrived on foot and/or parked their cars to walk their students on campus.
The well-orchestrated morning was a site to see as school administrators met cars at the front of the school, greeting parents, opening car doors for students, signing them in and directing them to classrooms.
Principal Michelle Freeman was greeted with hugs from students and waves of appreciation from parents as students exited their cars. “This is what it’s all about (referring to the students), Freeman said. To me, this is the bottom line. It’s what makes me the happiest.”
Photos by Veronica Barber.
The Lee County Black History Society has officially kicked off a capital campaign to raise $22 million for a Black Culture Center at Clemente Park in Dunbar.
As part of the City of Fort Myers’ comprehensive plan for Clemente Park, residents have expressed their desire for the construction of a Black Cultural Center in the expansive urban green space available.
“We envision this as a state-of-the-art cultural center that will be a place for both blacks and non-blacks to come and experience and learn about the African American history, art and culture. By bringing awareness to our African American culture, we hope to build a stronger community and a better relationship with others,” said Teresa Watkins Brown, Fort Myers City Councilmember, and Ward 1. Watkins Brown recently kicked off the funding of the capital campaign by donating $25,000.
“It will be a place that we can utilize art and music, but also display a place not just for us in this community, but tourists traveling here,” said Charles Barnes, Chairman of the Lee County Black History Society. “There's always talk about growth and development throughout the City of Fort Myers, but do we get those eyes into our community to see what we’re all about as a people.”
Barnes said for the center to become reality, $22 million would need to be raised to move forward and they are looking at multiple funding sources. Community leaders like Councilmember Watkins Brown and local architect Ted Sottong have already stepped up.
“As you're coming down Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, you're going to see it off in the distance and it doesn't look like anything else around it,” said Ted Sottong, the local architect who has produced initial plans and renderings for the Cultural Center.
The first floor of the Cultural Center would include an art gallery with large glass windows that would showcase the gallery to both pedestrians and vehicle traffic. The second floor is a community space for events and performances and the third floors will include music studios where local residents can come in and produce music or podcasts or photography.
“This is a project that we should get behind. We need to do our best to fund it because it’s a project that’s important to the entire city. It is an investment in the city, in our youth, and in our future,” said Kevin Anderson, mayor of the City of Fort Myers.
The Lee County Black History Society, Inc., a 501C (3) organization, was founded in 1994 by Janice Cass. Ms. Cass’s objectives for establishing the LCBHS, Inc. were to provide a way for African-Americans in Lee County to recognize and celebrate Black History Month, as well as creating a Black History Museum in Fort Myers. The Society aims to preserve and commemorate the cultural and educational contributions by both locally and nationally known Black people.
“What we have been able to do through the Black History organization and the Williams Academy Black History Museum is bringing attention to that deficit within the culture,” said Cass. “With an expansion, that will be a great opportunity for young artists, young musicians, and people to have a place where they can demonstrate and showcase their talents.”
Currently, the LCBHC operates the Williams Academy Black History Museum at Clemente Park. The museum was opened in January 2001 and is the 1942 addition to the original building. It is one of the few early twentieth-century wood frame schoolhouses still standing in Lee County. The original Williams Academy built-in 1912 was Lee County’s first government-funded school for black (‘colored’) students. The school was named after J. S. Williams, Supervisor of the Colored Schools. The Black students throughout Lee County and Punta Gorda attended school at the academy.
The museum was restored following state and national preservation and restoration standards. The building is divided into two rooms. One room displays historical memorabilia of local black citizens and the history and culture of the black community. The other room is an interactive classroom staged as a 1940’s segregated southern classroom for ‘colored’ students. It provides a visual contrast to the facilities provided to white students. One of the chief purposes of the Williams Academy Black History Museum is to provide educational opportunities to citizens of Lee County and surrounding areas.
Black History Month, Legends Gala, Juneteenth and Holiday in the Park are events presented each year by LCBHS through their partnerships with other community-based organizations, churches and private citizens.
To support the campaign, donations can be mailed or dropped off to Lee County Black History Society at 1936 Henderson Avenue, Fort Myers, FL 33916. For more information, call 239-332-8778, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit leecountyblackhistorysociety.org
View the Black Culture Center’s presentation at https://www.dropbox.com/s/jww62apq7lwdoik/1Final%20Video%20Presentation%20-%20 Black%20Culture%20Center%20-%207.30.21. mp4?dl=0.
Photos by Jacuie Matthews Williams.
Breaking News! “Lee Pitts Live” is leaving FOX 4 to join the WINK/CW television platform. The move took place on August 29th when the 30 year- old very influential talk show moved to channel 6. “Lee Pitts Live” is the longest running TV talk show in South Florida's history and the first ever hosted by a black man. It has had over 20,000 interviews and counting. Along the way, many barriers for local minorities in television media were broken down.
"For years, local NBC-2, ABC-7 and WINK had made offers to me to move to their platforms," stated Lee Pitts, host, creator, and executive producer of the popular multiple award-winning show which includes Five NAACP Image Awards and a Dunbar Community Hall of Fame Induction. " I was very impressed with the opportunities that WINK could offer in the near future such as going to a one hour format and my own radio show. All this fits my long-view of creating opportunities for others on my platforms so I selected WINK. These are certainly exciting times," smiles Pitts. "I am always up to something." The show will originally air 6:30 am on Sundays and move to another later spot in 2022. Lee Pitts Live broadcasts in the surrounding six counties reaching over 750,000 households.
Pitts grew up in the Collegeville Projects in Birmingham and attended Hudson Elementary, Carver High, Talladega College and Clark Atlanta University.
In 2020, he received the Ford Magazine Southwest Florida Icon Award.
The best way I can describe the state of our education community right now is by using the example of a building on fire. Perhaps after you read this you will: 1. Understand the situation better and 2. Examine your position and your responsibility in the fire that is blazing. 3. Decide what if anything you can do differently to stop the blaze.
Imagine there is a building burning and the flames are reaching higher and higher to the sky every day. The “fire department” is made up of all of us; parents, educators, community members, elected and not elected leaders, etc. etc. Inside the building are hundreds of all of our children, grandchildren, friends, relatives, acquaintances, you know, those people we entrust our children with each and every day; to keep them safe, loved and educated.
The sirens blare and lights flash as we rush to the scene. We have called out backup from all neighboring fire departments due to the severity of the blaze. We know that every minute wasted could be another life lost. We all arrive on the scene, appalled at the gravity of the blaze. We suit up in our gear, get out the hoses, point them at the ever-growing flames and ...STOP!
The talk begins: “Don’t turn on the water, I want to know who started this fire? You, no you, no you! I refuse to work with you because of the way you hold the hose. Well, I will not spray one drop until you fess up to what you did or didn’t do to start this fire. I have rights, well so do I! You will not tell me what to do, neither will you. STOP! Why are we here again??? Oh yes, there are children and adults in that building in front of us that is blazing!
Please consider this FACTS: The number of cases of Covid-19 or Covid-19 related illnesses are rising. If it has not touched your friend and family circle of life yet, just wait, it will. Detection is one of the main ways to stop the spread. I am not mentioning the vaccination and masks because that is not the purpose of this article. If students come to school on the bus, goes to the first two classes of the day and to lunch, then tells the teacher in the next class “I don’t feel well,” goes to the clinic, and are told they have several Covid-19 symptoms, then they are sent to the “isolation” room. The parents are called and are given the option to have them tested there at school or they can go to a clinic or their own doctor to get them tested.
Parents are told you must go on line to fill out the Covid Incident Report, CIR form. It is Wednesday and the parent prefers to go to their own pediatrician, but can’t get in until Friday. (Hopefully, they keep them home until they know for sure.) If they are asymptomatic, no cough or sneezing or aches and pains they may send them to school on Thursday and Friday. On Friday the pediatrician says yes, they are Positive. The parent then calls the school or the hotline to find out what to do...” fill out the form” and you must quarantine. At that point the medical professionals calculate what their quarantine time will be. The parent fills out the form, it is checked by medical staff, logged in and sent to DOH, Department of Health. DOH follows up with notification to those who have possibly been exposed. Schools, the District and DOH are extremely understaffed of medical professionals needed to shorten the time of this process. Therein lies the part of the blazing inferno that we can help put out, together.
Why is this important? Because from the time the child “didn’t feel well” and the time the DOH contacted possible exposures, the number of exposures grew every single day. Currently the process can be behind as much as weeks. This disease is odorless, tasteless but not painless. You don’t see it coming, until it has arrived. So back to our fire, what we Can do is ban together to find ways to get more medical help to do forms and paper work for earlier detection…thus slowing the spread. We can turn on our fire hoses and together put out the flames in the largest part of the building…together! Can we ask the Governor and Legislators to help us by providing military medical personnel to help each school to catch up and stay within a 24-hour reporting of Covid-19 exposure? We need to turn on the hose and start putting out the blaze. We need to let the educational professionals from drivers to teachers, administrators, secretaries, maintenance, etc. etc. know that we appreciate their daily sacrifice to keep the schools open? Can we just tackle the blaze, together?
The story ends when the blaze is over and everyone is safe the fire officials from forensics come in to find out…what started the fire. They always put out the fire first and investigate the who, why and what to blame later, after everyone is safe! Just a thought to consider. Feel free to share the story with others, it is not a fairytale!