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RECAP: Black History Month Hot Topics

Staff | Published on 2/27/2024

Black History Month 2024
Lift Every Voice: The Fight for African American History and Culture

Before the program, Dr. Ethel Wellington Trawick, a retired educator, sang the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the Black National Anthem.

This year, as we celebrate Black History Month, we must acknowledge the politically motivated attempts coming out of our state government to erase Black culture and history, especially the State Department (Division of Elections) and Department of Education. The panel elaborated on the rich history of African Americans' fight for representation right here in our community and explored the way forward.

Read FULL review below.

Accordion Widget

Valada Flewellyn is an author, poet, historian, and storyteller. Valada is the author of seven books, her latest: “For the Children: The History of Jack and Jill of America Incorporated” (2018), the oldest African American family organization founded in 1938. Valada serves on the board of the Crealde School of Art in Winter Park, FL.

She is a founding member of the Alliance for Truth and Justice (ATJ) an affiliate of the Equal Justice Institute (EJI), a member of Bridging the Color Divide, a lifetime member of The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and serves as historian for the Dorothy Turner Johnson Branch. She is a member of the Seminole County branch of the League of Women Voters. Valada is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated and is a member of the Washington Shores Presbyterian Church.

Valada is a graduate of Marymount College, BS in Marketing.

Poetry by Valada can be found at the Alliance for Truth and Justice (ATJ)

Dr. LaVon W. Bracy


Dr. LaVon Wright Bracy has been a champion for the rights of others since she was a child. Her legacy, as she shares in her new book, “A Brave Little Cookie,” is why she’s most known. She’s the girl who integrated the school system in Alachua County, Florida, becoming the first African American to graduate from Gainesville High School in 1965.


Her gripping story has been written for elementary school children to introduce them to the civil rights struggles and sacrifices made to make the world a better place. She’s known in Central Florida for her vigorous encouragement to increase voter registration and for single handedly registering more than 1,200 people. The wife of a minister and university dean, the late Rev. Dr. Randolph Bracy Jr., she’s also the mother of former state Sen. Randolph Bracy III and current state Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis. She is the co-founder of the New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando.


The product of a civil rights activist and a schoolteacher, LaVon Bracy is the proud daughter of the late Reverend Thomas A. Wright and Affie Mae Wright. She is the youngest of four children born to parents who, in their school age days did not experience education in an integrated setting. These powerful community pillars wanted better opportunity for their children and fought, in and outside of the courtroom, to help bring to fruition the equality that was well deserved.


LaVon Bracy earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from Fisk University. She earned a master’s degree in education with emphasis on college and personnel services from the University of Miami and earned her doctorate from the University of Florida in higher education administration. She is the author of “Making Them Whole” (1990), “Beyond Bravery” (2012) and “A Brave Little

Cookie” (2019).

LeRoy Pernell


LeRoy Pernell is a professor and former dean of Florida A&M University College of Law. He is credited with leading the law school to full accreditation from the American Bar

Association in 2009 and reaccreditation in 2014. He is also professor emeritus and former dean of the Northern Illinois University College of Law.


He began his career in legal education at The Ohio State University College of Law where he served as Professor of Law and Vice Provost of Minority Affairs. Teaching primarily in the areas of Criminal Procedure, Torts and Juvenile Law, he also created clinical education courses at Ohio State in the areas of Mental and Developmental Disability as well as Criminal Appeals and Post-Conviction Relief. At Northern Illinois University, he created the Zeke Giogi Legal Clinic, in Rockford, the first clinical program for the NIU College of Law. Professor Pernell has also held the position of a public defender and served as of counsel to the law practice of the late Otto Beatty, Jr, former Ohio state representative.


Pernell is a frequent contributor to both national and local print and electronic media on topics ranging from Elections to Criminal Justice. In 2021 he was awarded, along with the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Law, the Telly Award honoring excellence in video and television across all screens for his contribution to Legal Connections: Ocoee Massacre. He has testified before the Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives regarding pending federal habeas corpus legislation and its impact on persons of color. He is also the recipient of numerous awards including the CLEO EDGE AWARD and has been inducted into The National HBCU Pre-Law Hall of Fame.


Pernell earned his bachelor’s degree in government from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1971, and received his Juris Doctor from The Ohio State University College of Law in 1974.

Senator Geraldine Thompson


When Geraldine F. Thompson was elected in 2018, she became the first female Democrat and person of color to serve Florida House District 44. Sen. Thompson now represents Senate District 15 in West Orange County.

After receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Miami in 1970 and a Master of Science Degree from the Florida State University in 1973, Sen. Thompson served for six years as an Orange County Public Schools teacher. She later served for 24 years as an administrator at Valencia Community College where she established the College Reach Out Program, which enabled thousands of low income and disadvantaged students to fulfill their dreams of going to college.

Sen. Thompson also developed a reputation as a respected historian for compiling the history of African Americans in Central Florida and authoring the book “Black America: Orlando, Florida.” She led the campaign to preserve one of Orlando’s unique landmarks, the Wells’ Built Hotel which, during the days of segregation, provided lodging to some of America’s most prominent citizens including Justice Thurgood Marshall. Today that landmark is known as the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture.

She served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2006 to 2012 and 2018 to 2022. Significant legislation that she initiated and saw passed included bills to exonerate the Groveland Four, provide compensation to James Joseph Richardson, who was wrongfully incarcerated for 22 years, outlaw discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace, and a Specialty License Plate to benefit organizations that comprise the Divine Nine with eighty-five percent of the proceeds from the sale of the plate which will be distributed to the organizations to support scholarship

She also has been elected chair of the African American History Task Force, which will plan the construction, operation and administration of a museum celebrating Black history in the state.

Jasmine Burney-Clark


Jasmine Burney-Clark is a civic engagement professional who has dedicated her personal and professional career to social and electoral justice across the state of Florida. She’s consulting director and founder of the Equal Ground Education Fund and Action Fund, a Black-led and community-centered civic engagement organization that focuses on voter registration, education and turnout.


Her work in Florida and Equal Ground has been featured on CNN and MSNBC and in the Washington Post and The New York Times. She is highly sought-after to empower and engage Black people in social and civic engagement campaigns that directly impact their lives and the generations that follow.


She has worked to expand equal access to the ballot box on behalf of many Floridians. In her previous work, she was a senior advisor to the NAACP (National), Geraldine Thompson for Senate, NextGen Climate, Supreme Court Judicial Retention and Executive Director of the Florida 501c3 Civic Engagement Table, where she advanced work by coordinating half a million voter registrants and raising millions of dollars to support statewide coordinated civic engagement programs that center Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities.


Awards include Orlando Magic Diversity Game Changer (Orlando Magic), Champion for Civic Engagement (Alpha Kappa Alpha), Journey Award (The Experience Christian Center), Florida Classic Making a Difference through Service (Bakari Burns, City Commission District 6), Most Influential Women in Florida List (City and State Magazine) and Power 100 List (City and State Magazine).


Burney-Clark received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Bethune-Cookman University and a master’s degree in public administration from Florida A&M University.

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Recap: Lift Every Voice; The Fight for African American History and Culture
By Virginia Meany
“The Field of Education has been a battleground in the struggle for freedom.” (Martin
Luther King Jr.)
Our Florida Battleground
The teaching of African American history and culture is under attack in the state of Florida. The vaguely worded “Stop WOKE Act” restricts lessons and training on race and diversity in schools and the workplace. Another law bans the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 classrooms, which Gov. DeSantis stated “will end corporate and educational indoctrination in Florida.” Further, the Department of Education has rejected an AP high school elective course on African American History, saying it “significantly lacked educational value”. Florida public school students are learning a sanitized version of American history and social studies through a narrow and limited lens. Inevitably, they will be disadvantaged when competing with peers from states that teach and debate a full accounting of our past.
Florida students are further harmed by laws that make it easier for books to be banned in classrooms and school libraries. In Florida, every book must be reviewed by a media specialist. Parents are allowed to challenge books that are deemed “harmful” to students and can insist that a book be pulled from circulation until reviewed. Classroom libraries have disappeared and school librarians and teachers are fearful of losing credentials and being fined if deemed to have “broken” the law by allowing an inappropriate book to be circulated. Books about race by African American authors, LGBTQ+ content and violence are among the most frequent reasons for removal.
Our BHM Program
Lee Rambeau Kemp, LWVOC VP opened the meeting and recognized the 104th anniversary of the League of Women Voters. Lee also praised the leadership of former National League President, Dr. Deborah A. Turner, who died on Jan 28, 2024. We remember Dr. Turner as a fierce advocate of voting rights, women’s rights and racial equity. Lee introduced moderator, Jasmine Burney-Clark, Founder and Executive Director of Equal Ground. Jasmine encouraged the audience to celebrate Black history every day, not just during Black History Month. The theme of this year’s Black History Month is African Americans and the arts. We know African American artists have used art to preserve history and community memory as well as for empowerment. Artistic and cultural movements such as the New Negro, Black Arts, Black Renaissance, hip-hop, and Afrofuturism, have been led by people of African descent and set the standard for popular trends around the world. Our panelists today are authors, poets, historians and activists. Each brings rich lived and professional experiences to today’s discussion about reclaiming the African American narrative. Soloist Dr Ethel Wellington-Trawick (retired educator, administrator and music director) laid the foundation for the hour with a lovely rendition of the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” written by Jacksonville native James Weldon Johnson. Senator Geraldine Thompson joined by video as the Legislature is in session. Senator Thompson provided an overview of “troubling” legislation enacted and under discussion. She characterized the current legislative agenda as one that looks to shift the discussion away from matters of substance that would confront the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow and racist
government policies. Our legislators favor a “whitewashing” of history and seek to protect white students from the discomfort of reckoning with our past.

*Video feed from Senator Thompson received a Masters in Communication from the University of Florida, a university that integrated in 1958, 100 years after its founding. She asked us to consider the systems that were in place to keep a publicly funded university all white for almost 100 years. As a former teacher, Senator Thompson is participating on a committee that is reviewing academic standards. She suggests that the Department of Education “go back to the drawing board” and develop standards that provide an historically accurate depiction of the African American experience in the US and honor the contributions made by African Americans. An unfortunate consequence of efforts to defund DEI programs in public colleges and universities and proposed rules around tenure is an exodus of academic talent and recruiting challenges.
Jasmine Burney-Clark introduced the panel and asked each panelist to describe how the manner in which Black history has been taught (or not taught) has shaped their lives and career choices.
Valada Flewellyn (poet, historian, educator and storyteller) grew up during the Civil Rights era and remembers how Black history was ignored and how angry she became. She turned her anger to activism and started a petition to require the teaching of “Negro” history in Cleveland schools. In time, Valada expressed her feelings through poetry. As an educator, Valada worked to ensure that the stories of African Americans are recognized as American stories. Telling the truth about our common history shines a light on our past. Note: Please visit Valada’s BHM exhibit at the Winter Park Library: “Things we must say.”
Dr. LaVon Bracy (educator, civil rights champion, author) grew up in St. Augustine and didn’t realize the impact of history until the KKK burned a cross in her yard . Her dad was President of the local NAACP. She described growing up in St Augustine as “horrible for us.” Yet, her parents stressed the importance of getting the best education possible and the importance of reading. She was instructed to “take what you have learned and help others.”
Dr. LeRoy Pernell (educator, lawyer, former dean of FAMU College of Law) grew up in the 1950s and used the study of Black history to imagine who he could become. He remembered seeing a picture of Emmett Till in Jet magazine and was changed forever. He turned outrage into a lifelong fight for equality. Once told that “a child like you couldn’t have a perfect score” on an exam, he would refuse to let doubts about his intelligence define him. He became the first in his family to graduate from high school. When speaking about legislative constraints on what and how educators teach, Dr. Pernell remarked that students are clamoring for knowledge. They want to learn about the past so they know what needs to change. They also want to graduate from an accredited institution. Attacks on education are nationwide and are an attempt to “prohibit” progress toward diversity and inclusion.

Valada Flewellyn understands what it takes to write a book and therefore the disruption that book bans have on authors, illustrators and publishers. She read from her poem “I Love to Tell
the Story” to articulate the importance of storytelling in understanding history. Dr. Bracy spoke about her experience as the first Black student to graduate from Gainesville High School. Classmates beat her, called her slurs, put tacks on her seat and tried every way possible to prevent her from graduating. She persisted and met her graduation goal. Dr. Bracy has told this story for many years to Florida schoolchildren. Her calendar during Black history month has always been filled. This year, she has had ZERO invitations. One teacher told her she was “afraid she would lose her job” if Dr. Bracy were invited. Any presentation would need to be pre-approved by an attorney to ensure she met the conditions of the law. There was a deep sigh in the room and sadness about the harm caused by laws “protecting” Florida’s students.
Jasmine Burney Clark mentioned the “permission slip” recently posted to X by a parent who had to grant “permission” for his child to be read a book by an African American author. She asked us to share these stories in our networks. “If we don’t scream loud enough and use the power of the ballot” it will get worse. Our panelists believe there is an urgent need to challenge the suppression of knowledge in our schools. States that suppress history also suppress voting. This is not an accident. When asked what Black history has taught us and how to fight back, our panelists had much to say.

Talk to one another, particularly seek out people who have different beliefs. When asked by a friend, “Who are your people?”, Valada Flewellyn responded “My people love.” Have those loving conversations about race and truth whenever and wherever you can.

Dr. Bracy suggested we find out the history that people don’t want us to know. Get busy buying and giving away banned books. Recognize that attacks on public education have been a fixture
of our American history. Reversal of repressive laws will take persistence and resilience and time. Dr. Bracy will do everything she possibly can to make Florida a state for everyone, particularly for her grandchildren.
Dr. Pernell reminded us that the “battle” isn’t against individuals who do racist things; the real battle is against systems that deny access to the truth, deny access to voting and work to marginalize people of color. These are not individual actions by individual states, but part of a broader plan to suppress some voices and privilege others. The courts can also be an effective tool; Dr. Purnell is one of the plaintiffs challenging the “Stop WOKE Act” as a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Valada Flewellyn recited her beautiful and powerful poem, “We All Have Skin on the Rope.” We need to understand our history and be willing to take individual and collective action to
challenge racism in our laws, culture and daily lives. We each have a responsibility to do so.
Accordion Widget
  • The Pen America Index of Banned Books has a list of titles that you can explore and share with your circle.  Consider donating these titles
  • Reach out to others and engage in gov. policy discussion without a partisan approach...listen, reflect, seek common ground
  • Support your community by engaging with elected officials via townhalls, calling or writing them, learning more about candidates for elections
  • Consider attending a local event about your advocacy passion such as the upcoming Fair Housing Fair at Grand Avenue Neighborhood Center, 800 Grand St Orlando, FL 32805 United States of America
  • Read a book that expands your knowledge
  • It's easy to find terrific titles:
    The American Writers Museum offers:
    The New York Public Library Schomburg Center suggests:

2024 Hot Topics Feb. Lift Every Voice

If you attended the FEB 14 Hot Topics or watched the Live Facebook feed or saw it on YouTube, we would appreciate your evaluation.

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