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Leadership class project sets sights on revitalizing museum

The 2008 class hopes to raise more than $50,000 to give the Dr. Carter G. Woodson museum a new look and new attention.

By Michael Maharrey, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


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ST. PETERSBURG - Each year, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce offers a program called Leadership St. Pete.

The six-month course seeks to develop community leadership by introducing participants to social, business, economic and political issues in the city. Part of the program involves taking on a community service project.

The 38 members of the 2008 class adopted the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, and instead of simply spending a day doing a single project, as past classes have done, the 2008 group decided they wanted to go above and beyond the program's requirements and do something more significant.

"We wanted to not only do a project," said Dwight Wilson, the group's logistics chair. "We wanted to leave a legacy."

On May 3, the group will gather to create a courtyard and garden area behind the museum.

The class plans to landscape, correct drainage issues and build a privacy fence and pergola. Wilson said he envisions people using the courtyard for weddings, spoken word presentations, entertainment and community events.

The extent of the project will hinge on how much of the $50,400 budget the group can raise. Wilson said they have about $25,000 committed so far.

But the group's plans beyond the physical improvements make this class' project unique.

"The whole thing is to get the museum self-sufficient," Wilson said.

To achieve this, the 2008 class is planning a fundraising ball on May 31 at the Hilton St. Petersburg.

The Legends Ball will serve to raise money for the museum and honor the contributions of local African-Americans by pairing leaders in various fields with legends of the past.

Tickets are $100 and only 300 are available.

Wilson said the class hopes funds raised from the ball will allow the museum to fund a full-time executive director, expand exhibits and allow for longer operating hours.

"With funding, this museum could really take off," Wilson said.

The museum has struggled since it opened in April 2006. Its executive director died soon after the museum opened and was never replaced. Its location on Ninth Avenue S is away from downtown's core and the museum lacks the visibility of the Dali or the Florida International Museum.

The African American History Museum is not even listed among St. Petersburg's museums on the city Web site.

City Council Member Earnest Williams said the city supports the museum and wants it to succeed.

"We want to make it an integral part of the city's chain of museums," he said.

Williams said the museum approached the council about emergency funding in November 2006, and they were willing to help, but the request was withdrawn.

He said the city provides in-kind services to the museum, such as help with grounds keeping.

Terri Lipsey Scott is the administrative officer for the City Council and a member of the Leadership St. Pete 2008 class. She spearheaded the idea of supporting the museum as the class project.

"I felt I hadn't done my part for the preservation of African-American history," she said. "I decided now is the time."

Scott said she's received strong support from her classmates and the community.

"I'm surprised nobody has told me 'no' yet," she said "I'm excited. A thought becomes a wonderful idea when people embrace it."

Scott said she wants to see the museum upgraded so it can live up to its namesake.

Considered the father of black history, Dr. Carter G. Woodson proposed and launched Negro History week in 1926.

It was later expanded to Black History Month in 1976. Woodson chose February because it was the month of Lincoln's birth.

"Woodson is truly a legend," Scott said. "The museum is not a reflection of him. If you are going to honor someone, do it in a fashion that reflects the individual."

Michael Maharrey can be reached at 893-8779 or mmaharrey@sptimes.com

Help the project

To make a donation or to help Leadership St. Pete's class project, call Dwight Wilson at 727 893-7171.

[Last modified February 16, 2008, 23:36:06]


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