- Faith & Family
In 1974, history was made when, in winning the race for a seat on the Broward County School Board, Dillard High social studies teacher Dr. Kathleen Cooper Wright became the first Black person to win a countywide election in Broward. Twelve years later, Sylvia Poitier became the first
Black person elected as a Broward County Commissioner, a year after being appointed to the commission by then-Governor Bob Graham.
The number of Black elected officials in Broward County has grown significantly since those days with the current number standing at 33 according to Dania Beach Vice Mayor Bobbie H. Grace. Those ranks include political figures at the municipal, county, state and federal levels. Among that active number are people that include: U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings, County Supervisor of Elections Dr. Brenda Snipes, State Representative Hazelle Rogers, State Senator Christopher Smith and Mayor of West Park Eric Jones [also the current chair of Broward Black Elected Officials, Inc.).
Pet projects as diverse as the community
State Representative Perry Thurston, Jr., incoming leader for the House Democrats, says he’s trying to to improve his party’s super-minority status in Tallahassee and is involved with 12 different campaigns across the state. Dems need at least 42 seats in the upcoming legislative session to achieve their goal but with 38 seats at present, Thurston says that the prospects of shifting the scales of power are “looking very favorable.”
“We are anticipating significant gains,” he said.
County Commissioner Barbara Sharief’s district covers all of the Broward communities that border Miami-Dade County. Her primary focus, first as a city commissioner in Miramar and now in the county commission is housing, specifically foreclosures.
“For some time I’ve wanted to make sure that people who were being foreclosed had a resource,” Sharief said. “This is one issue that transcends the three counties’ boundaries and my duty as an elected official is to help the people affected.”
Housing is also important to Grace who was summoned out of retirement in 2010 to come back to the city to help with housing and CRAs.
“The most astonishing accomplishment for me was developing affordable housing in Dania Beach,” she said.
Specifically, 82 single family homes and a pair of buildings for older adults are the products of those effort — all part of a larger community development initiative.
Dale V. C. Holness, who sits on the Broward County Commission with Sharief, focuses on minimizing economic disparity.
“My focus has been on economic development and job creation,” he said.
For instance, he cites recent efforts to increase diversity within Broward County’s Fire Department as fruits of his labor and focus.
“At the beginning of this year, out of 840 firefighters, only 26 were Black,” he said, while pointing out that the newest class of recruits has six Blacks out of a total class size of 15.
Recognizing the potential for international opportunities for growth to address sobering figures like the 30 percent of people in the 33311 zip code in Broward living below federal poverty levels, Holness wants to take advantage of location and demographics in his community to improve circumstances. A recent forum that focused on trade with Colombia with mayors of 12 different cities from that South American country and a successful international cricket match in Lauderhill that resulted in a $3M injection of funds into the local economy are two examples of combating poverty that he has spearheaded.
Grace, who is excited about the creation of community gardens growing organic foods “for the benefit of all residents” in her city, cited people like
Robert Ingram, Carrie Meek, as well as Wright and Poitier for guiding her rightly as she embarked on her political career.
Following more directly in the footsteps of Wright is Benjamin Williams, who is ending his tenure on the Broward County Public School Board. Williams’ most important project now is one that reflects upon all of today and tomorrow’s Broward’s elected officials: a sculpture of Wright to be erected in front of the same school board building named in her honor. With help from the Links of Fort Lauderdale, the Broward Education Foundation and the school board, Williams says “we hope to finalize [the funding of the project] by November.” With the total goal of $75,000 almost within reach, Williams is optimistic — and motivated by Wright’s memory.
“She was an outstanding leader and educator and we must continue her work,” he said.
By José Pérez