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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Protests, Police, Pandemic, And Politics: Enough Already

These topics are very important, but I've addressed them repeatedly and want to change the subject this week.  I expect you might feel the same.  I do want to acknowledge, though, that our current protests are historic, in that elected leaders are not allowing policemen and other "conservatives" to attack the demonstrators' right to free speech.  Our grandchildren are picking up the protest signs we dropped after Richard Nixon's 1968 election, and genuine reform in the criminal justice system may be within sight.  I hope so.


It's also vital that we remain informed on our global illness, but I've been talking about that since January, and there's little new to say – except that China and other nations are doing a much better job of controlling it.  And that Americans are not exceptional.  We've surely had enough of lies and bullying from our supposed leader, and I'm really tired of writing about him.


Although I read the news online – and on paper when I can get that – I stopped watching television news months ago.  I listened to WUSF and WMNF while driving to the VA Hospital from December through April, but after Hubby died, I can't bring myself to turn on the radio.  He loved that medium.  He subscribed to Satellite XM and even listened to right-wingers and conspiracy nuts on late-night radio.  He said it was important to know what was going on in their weird world, but I don't have that much tolerance.


Thus I don't know if these guys – and they all were guys – have explanations for our historic health problems, but I suspect that they do.  And that they are wrong.  They will be even more wrong on the subject of police and protests, and they will stand in line to salute fascist politicians.  Thus I'm going to change the subject – although in another way, the below is more relevant than ever.




This is a complete and total rip-off from Roy Peter Clark, an eminent teacher of writing at St. Petersburg's Poynter Institute.  It is the official owner of the Tampa Bay Times, and he occasionally writes for that paper.  He is white and recently sent Valentines to his black friends via a newspaper column.  I want to emulate that.  I trust he won't sue me.


To begin, I managed the 1978 re-election campaign of the late Representative Helen Gordon Davis, and I still can see myself leaving an event in the nearly all-black community of Progress Village.  For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that I like most black people more than I like most whites.  That's a matter of percentages, of course, not numbers, but it's generally true. 


Many more white people have been unkind to me than black people.  During my long life, I can think of only two blacks who have been deliberately mean – both strangers in retail settings and both youngish women – whereas I couldn't begin to enumerate the white people of all ages and genders who have been hurtful, hostile, and intentionally cruel.  If you are white, please think about this proposition and let me know if your experience has been the same.  But now, to individual valentines:


·      My closest black friend was Hillsborough County Commissioner Sylvia Rodriguez Kimbell, who died in 1994.  She lived up the road in Thonotosassa, and we spent many hours in her backyard or mine, talking history and politics.  Sylvia's uncle, Francisco Rodriguez, was a champion of justice who had to flee from Tampa racists, and her stories of growing during segregation taught me so much.

·      Dr. Sandra Wilson (pronounced "Saundra") also is gone.  She was more controversial than Sylvia, but she always stood up for her community, especially at Hillsborough Community College (HCC).  I have a beautiful set of water glasses that she gave me when Jeb Bush's Republican regime kicked me off of the college's Board of Trustees.

·      That was after we ended the careers of administrators who had been exploiting HCC since its beginning.  We hired Dr. an African-American woman, Gwen Stephenson, as president, and she absolutely turned the school around.  Now she, too, is dead, as is her devoted husband, Steve Stephenson.

·      Sylvia's neighbor, Dr. Doris Campbell, also has joined the angels.  Doris taught in the College of Nursing at University of South Florida (USF), and in retirement, she volunteered with medical teams in the Caribbean.  Her daughter is Judge Lisa Campbell.




·      My admiration for Dr. Lois Gaston knows no bounds.  The head of HCC's Ybor campus in the 1990s, she showed tremendous bravery by risking her job to thwart its sale.  Yes, there indeed were bad guys, some of them very highly placed, who wanted to sell this public property at a deep discount to developers, and Lois figured out their scheme.  She also is the great-niece and literary heir of Zora Neale Huston – and if you don't know who Zora was, look her up.

·      Speaking of the literary world, I've not seen Althea England in ages, but I read her "Alice in Mambotoland" and suspect that somewhere, she has some great unpublished literature.  I originally sought her out because she had the temerity to go to a Ku Klux Klan rally and confront the infamous David Duke.

·      Continuing with the literary world, I'll not say much about Phyllis McEwen, but instead just use two lines of her insightful poetry:  "Grandfather, why didn't you tell me you were white?  I always thought that you were some blond, blue-eyed, freckled-faced colored man."

·      Another "Phyllis" is Phyllis Guthman.  We both served on the board for the Winthrop Arts Factory, and she is a speech pathologist who heads Disability Resources Hub.  Even as I type this, I see on the internet that she is involved with a virtual conference titled, "What Employers Expect:  You're Not in ESE Land Anymore." (ESE is bureaucratese for "Exceptional Student Education.)

·      Going back to HCC, Bonnie Carr, a CPA, did a huge amount to bring financial sense to the reformed college.  Now retired, she volunteers with the Plant City Boys & Girls Club.  Thank you, Bonnie, for being one of the first to call when Hubby died.

·      Another who was excellent with budgetary numbers was Elsie Crowell, the longtime head of Consumer Protection under the Department of Insurance.  Elsie taught me a great deal about the history of insurance companies, especially about their treatment of racial minorities.  After Republicans took over Tallahassee, she retired and earned an FSU doctorate in public health.  Just because she wanted to.

·      Elsie chaired the Florida Commission on the Status of Women for a while, as did Dr. Navita James, with the USF Department of Communications.  Navita represented Florida at the United Nations' 1995 conference on women in Beijing – as did First Lady Hillary Clinton. 

·      I also learned a lot from Hazel Armwood Orsley, who worked in Washington most of her life, but retired to her family home in Seffner.  The Armwoods, you may know, were long the most influential black family in Hillsborough County; some of the men were elected to office, and Blanche Armwood, for whom the high school is named, was a nationally known civil-rights orator.

·      Betty Reed impressed me with her quiet faithfulness to Democratic candidates long before she was elected to the legislature herself.  Like so many other female leaders in government, she had been a teacher, and teachers merit special Valentines.




I have to say that I simply know more women than men, or at least I know them more fully.  That was not true when I was young:  I had appreciably more male than female friends in college.  Maybe that was because men greatly outnumbered women in higher education back then.  Or maybe it's because a lot of men still find it difficult to conduct an intellectual conversation with a woman, especially a married woman.  But I do know some black men who merit a Valentine.

·      Fred Hearns tops the contemporary list.  You see him often in the paper, especially in articles by Paul Guzzo.  Fred was the only black and I was the only woman on the eight-member committee that chose historical figures for statues on the Riverwalk.  Understandably, Fred and I talked a lot.

·      When I was on the board at HCC, Dr. Keith Berry was my go-to guy for history, especially African-American history.  I see he's now dean of academic affairs, and I appreciate the fact that he has stayed in Tampa.  He has international ability.

·      Like Keith, Dr. Larry Rivers is an excellent historian.  He's at FAMU now, and his chief book, "Slavery in Florida," is an award winner that you should read.

·      Because we both are ancient, I haven't seen Delano Stewart in a while.  Del was a successful lawyer in the civil rights movement, and I met him through the Democratic Party when we were young.  He took real risks for racial equity, and he more than qualifies for accolades and Valentines.

·      Ernest Hooper, the excellent journalist who, sadly, is no longer with the Times, would get thousands of Valentines if we knew how to get in touch with him.  Those of us in East Hillsborough especially miss his insightful columns. Always on duty, be it speaking or reporting or simply being himself, he's a public role model extraordinaire.

·      That reminds me of Times' writer Waveney Ann Moore; she is not a man, nor particularly close, but I thank her for rearing my daughter's longtime best friend.  They met at Harvard, not locally, but have kept in touch for decades.  A native of Guyana, Waveney's sensitive writing covers everything from religion to food.  Watch for her articles.

·      A couple of couples:  USF would not be the same without Drs. Juel & John Smith and Drs. Mimi & David Stamps.  Both have done a great deal to give our university its international reputation.  Harold and Doris Ross Reddick also were pioneers in equity for black students.  Harold pushed for vocational education through his work with the AFL-CIO, while Doris was the first black woman elected to the school board.


You'll notice exclusions, especially of African Americans who still are active in politics.  Incumbents and potential candidates:  You'll see your name after you no longer have a public career.  I want to end, though, by telling you about another incident when I decided that black people, on average, are nicer than whites.  It was in a parking lot on a hot day; I was upset about something and put my car into reverse, smashing smack into another car.  It was totally my fault.  I was prepared to hand over my insurance card for a big bill at a body shop.


An older black woman got out of the damaged car and said, "Oh, that's just a little dent.  My son can hammer it out."  I was astonished; I've have white people demand much more payment for much less damage.  (Now that I think of it, all of these whites were men; one stalked me for days on the mere suspicion that my car had scratched his.)  But this loveable woman insisted that I stop crying and forget about contacting any insurance company.  I gave her what little cash I had in my purse, and she smiled.  I never shall forget her.  Just be kind, people.



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