Black professionals seeking social scene

Published April 15, 2007

"Orlando beckons black social set"; Aug. 23, 2004; links.tampabay.com

THE STORY: Some black professionals said the dating situation in the Tampa Bay area was so bad their only recourse was to drive to Orlando on Friday and Saturday nights to meet other black singles. Leah Fennell, a psychiatry resident at a Tampa hospital, was one of them.

FROM THE STORY: She went through culture shock when she moved to Tampa from Nashville, where she graduated from Meharry Medical College, a historically black institution.

"Nashville has Fisk, Tennessee State University and Meharry, and there is a prominent black professional presence there," said Fennell, 29. "Here it was just very different. A friend of mine heard that Orlando had a different vibe to it. . . . She told me about this professional party, so we got dressed up and went."

Fennell met a man at that New Year's Eve soiree in 2003. She and her boyfriend are still together, and Orlando beckons her every weekend.

THE REST OF THE STORY: That man, computer consultant Chari Clark, proposed to Fennell last New Year's Eve and moved to Tampa about two months later. It offers more than Orlando, he said. It has three professional sports teams, a larger variety of industries for young black professionals to choose from "and Tampa is where my wife is."

Clark, 31, married Fennell in November before 150 guests at Centro Asturiano in Ybor City.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Fennell, now 32, is three months away from completing her residency at the University of South Florida. In July, she begins work at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.

Meanwhile, Tampa's social scene continues to evolve. Since last year, there has been something specifically geared toward young black professionals almost every Friday and Saturday.

A group of Florida A&M University alums throw an upscale networking party, "First Fridays," at various places throughout the city. Another former FAMU set has found success with "Mahogany Lounge" and "Flirt," alternately held the second Saturday of every other month in Clearwater or Tampa. Then there's the Six Footahs, a group of women, most of them lawyers. Their signature event, "The Finale," draws hundreds of people on the fourth Friday of every month.

Fennell's take on the bay area has changed.

"Maybe," she said, "it isn't too bad."

And what about Clark, who lived in Orlando for eight years before relocating to Tampa?

"It all depends on what you're looking for," he said. "Both places have good things and bad things about them.

"For me, I prefer Tampa."