2022 Annual Conference

The African American Neighborhoods



Established in 1986, the Institute on Black Life (IBL) strives to educate the public about historical, cultural, political, and economic issues relevant to people of African descent in the Diaspora and on the African continent. IBL has established collaborative research partnerships with various USF departments and external entities to achieve its goals of scholarly exchange, community-engaged research, and student success. Recently, IBL co-sponsored a Student Lounge with the Office of Student Success, the USF Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) mentorship program, and partnered on a USF-community research study on structural racism commissioned by the City of St Petersburg.  
The IBL Annual Conference is one key way in which we highlight the collaborative work of our faculty, students and community partners. Each year, the conference focuses on a different theme around key research areas such as education and student success, economic and environmental impacts, Blackness and anti-Black racism education and research, heritage preservation, and community-based research initiatives. This year’s conference, titled “The African American Neighborhoods Project of Tampa Bay,” will launch a web portal built to compile and disseminate information on African American communities and highlight community-based projects in St. Petersburg.


Fenda Akiwuma

Welcome to the 2022 annual conference of the Institute on Black Life (IBL) at the University of South Florida. Founded in 1986, the Institute continues its core mission to serve as a resource center on the history and culture of the Black experience in Africa and the African Diaspora. Faculty across the University of South Florida collaborate with the Institute to conduct interdisciplinary, community-engaged research and outreach programs in our local Tampa Bay African American communities, the wider African Diaspora, and on the African continent. Our students assist in the important work of collecting and analyzing data. The title of our conference this year is The African American Neighborhoods Project of Tampa Bay. The variety of departments, schools, and community organizations our presenters represent shows the importance of taking a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the historical and contemporary life of Black communities.  
Our presenters are experts in African American Heritage, Journalism and Digital Communication, Multicultural and Student Affairs, Anthropology, Family Studies, Geosciences, Food Security, and the Digital and Performing Arts. The support of community research partners in the public and private sectors is central to our success as researchers and scholars. Partners supporting our initiatives to preserve the culture and history of our Black communities include The USF Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching, the African American Heritage Association of St. Pete, Inc., the Black Cemetery Network, the USF Black Faculty and Staff Association, Deuces Live, the Florida Food Council, and the Sierra Club Suncoast Group. We thank you for joining us and look forward to meaningful and fruitful deliberations.  


Fenda A. Akiwumi, Ph.D.
Director, Institute on Black Life 

The African American Neighborhoods Project of Tampa Bay 

In 2012, with support from USF’s Office of Community Engagement, the Institute on Black Life initiated a project that explores diverse perspectives on Tampa Bay’s African American neighborhoods. Our Stories are Here was one component of a larger study, the African American Neighborhoods Project, in which data on demographics, history, mobility, and economic conditions is being collected and made accessible to local residents and to an interdisciplinary body of scholars interested in these issues locally, statewide, and regionally. This study asks questions about the lives of people who lie in historically Black neighborhoods, including residents’ historical relationships to these neighborhoods and how people feel about the future of life in Black communities. Most importantly, the local residents play a critical role in setting the agenda for the project, which is ongoing, and in communicating how the project can benefit their communities. The 2022 conference will highlight and feature the work of community experts and USF researches focusing on communities in the City of St. Petersburg.  

General Overview

bull statue in front of Student Center

St. Pete campus University Student Center

Date: February 1, 2022 
Time:  9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. 
Location: USF St. Pete campus   
University Student Center  
200 6th Avenue South
St.Petersburg, FL 33701 


Morning Session  

9:00 - 9.30 a.m. Coffee
9:30 a.m. Words of Inspiration, Dr. Denise Davis-Cotton, Director, Florida Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching (PAInT) 
9:35 a.m.

Opening Remarks - Prof. Fenda A. Akiwumi. Director, Institute on Black Life, USF

 9:40 a.m. Opening Remarks - Provost Ralph Wilcox, USF
 9:45 a.m. Welcome Remarks - Chancellor Tadlock, USF
 9:50 a.m. Welcome Remarks - CAS Dean Magali Michael, USF 
 10:00 a.m. Overview Presentation - Dr Cheryl Rodriguez, Professor of Africana Studies, SIGS
10:35 a.m. Navigating the IBL African American Neighborhoods Project Web Portal, Rebecca Schoffman, ABD, Graduate Assistant, Institute on Black Life, USF 
10:55 a.m.

Introduction of Honored Guests – Ms. Geveryl Robinson, MFA USF

11:00 a.m.

Digitization of the St. Petersburg African American Heritage Trail
Honored Guests: Ms. Gwendolyn Reese, President
Honored Guests: Mr. Jon Wilson, Vice President 

 11:30 a.m.

The Neighborhood News Bureau Student Presentations by
- Dr. Natacha Yazbeck, Director, Dept of Journalism and Digital Communication, USF
- Dr. Casey Frechette, Chair, Dept of Journalism and Digital Communication, USF

Lunch Break 12:00 - 1:00 p.m.

Afternoon Session: Conversations on USF – St. Petersburg Community Research Partnerships 

1:00 – 1:50 p.m.

African American Burial Ground Project and Tropicana Field - Remembering Erased Black Cemeteries through Art and Research

Moderator: Prof. Antoinette Jackson, Director USF Heritage Research Lab, Department of Anthropology and Founder, Black Cemetery Network (BCN)

Mr. Walter “Wally B” Jennings, Spoken Word Artist for the African American Burial Ground Project and Assistant Director Diversity Initiatives, USF
Ms. Wanda Stuart, MS, Resident, Gas Plant District of St. Petersburg
Mr. Corey Givens, Community Activist 

1:55 – 2:40 p.m.

Supporting Family and Community Well-being, Through Effective Community Collaborations

Moderator: Dr. LaDonna Butler, Ed.D., LMHC, Associate Program Director for the Family Study Center and Adjunct Faculty, Department of Psychology, USF 

Serina Lewis, MSW, Family Study Center, USF 
Ms. Carole Alexander, CEO of the Next STEPP Center 
Dr. Bilan Joseph, Director of Thrive by Five at Community Foundation Tampa Bay

2:45 – 3:30 p.m.

Let's Keep The Deuces Live/Breathing New Life into The Deuces 

Moderator: Ms Geveryl Robinson MFA, USF St Petersburg Campus

Ms. Veatrice Farrell, The Deuces Live
Mr. Leon Jackson, Courageous 12 Retired Officer, St. Petersburg Police Department
Mr. LaShante Keys, Urban Collective 
Mr. Nick Davis, Digital Artist, Nick Davis LLC, St Petersburg, FL

 3:35 – 4:20 p.m.

Relationship Building for Community-based Equitable Climate Resilience

Moderator: Dr. Rebecca Johns, School of Geosciences, USF St Petersburg Campus 

Dr. Barnali Dixon, Director, iCAR, USF
Erica Hall, Florida Food Policy Council and Sierra Club Suncoast Group
Dr. Kenneth Bryant, Minority Health Coalition of Pinellas County

 4:25 – 4:30 p.m.

Closing Remarks, Prof. Fanni Green, Chair, School of Theater and Dance, USF 

 4:35 – 6:30 p.m.  Reception


Morning Session 

Jordan Daley


Mx. Jordan Daley
Philosophy Major


Jordan Daley (Pronouns: they/them) is currently an undergraduate at USF majoring in Philosophy with a minor in Africana Studies. Their research is currently investigating the intersections and interactions between W.E.B. Du Bois and Walter Benjamin, regarding their respective attentions to modernity, literature, and history.


Denise Davis-Cotton

Denise Davis-Cotton, Ed.D.
Director, Florida Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching (PAInT)
USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus


Denise Davis-Cotton, EdD is the Director for the Florida Center for PAInT. She is an esteemed professional and educator and author of Losing My Mind over Education (Finding My Way Back to Me), in which she shows the discord between preparations of hereducational journey along life’s landscape, what she discovers, and what needs to happen to reignite the educational spirit. She interacts with corporate, cultural, collegiate, and community institutions to help prepare learners to enter multiple aspects of the creative industries and other professional arenas upon completion of high school through arts integration and workforce development. She brings together educators, teaching artists, and community residents to engage in culturally-inclusive arts integration professional development activities throughout the year that are directly and inextricably linked to gaining understandings for transformational change in policy and practice.The impact of her programs helpsto nurture a harmonious cross-culturalmultiracial/ethnic educational community.


Ralph Wilcox

Ralph Wilcox, Ph.D.
USF Provost


Dr. Ralph C. Wilcox has served as Provost and Executive Vice President for the University of South Florida (USF) since September 2009. The first in his family to graduate from college, Dr. Wilcox has driven unparalleled gains in student retention and completion rates, eliminating achievement gaps on the basis of race and socioeconomic status. Today, USF is an acknowledged national leader in student success with a burgeoningresearch portfolio that has taken USF into the ranks of the Top-30 public research universities. As the chief academic officer of the University of South Florida, Dr. Wilcox works to aid in USF’s mission in delivering competitive undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs to generate knowledge and foster intellectual development to ensure student success in a global environment.


Martin Tadlock

Martin Tadlock, Ph.D.
Chancellor, USF St. Petersburg Campus


Dr. Tadlock was named Regional Chancellor at USF’s St. Petersburg campus in August 2018 after serving as Interim Chancellor since September 2017. Dr. Tadlock came to USF as the St. Petersburg campus’ Regional Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in July, 2016.


Magali Michael

Magali Cornier Michael, Ph.D.
Dean, College of Arts & Sciences
USF St. Petersburg Campus


Dr. Magali Cornier Michael has served as the St. Petersburg campus Dean of the USF College of Arts and Sciences since July 1, 2018. Her previous appointment was as Professor of English and Associate Dean of the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned her Ph.D. from Emory University in 1990. Her publications include numerous articles and book chapters, one edited collection, and three single-authored books titled Narrative Innovation in 9/11 Fiction (2014, Brill/Rodopi Press), New Visions of Community in Contemporary American Fiction: Tan, Kingsolver, Castillo, Morrison (2006, University of Iowa Press), and Feminism and the Postmodern Impulse: Post-World War II Fiction (1996, State University of New York Press).


Cheryl Rodriguez

Cheryl Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Professor of Africana Studies
School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies
USF Tampa Campus


Dr. Rodriguez represents a new breed of cultural anthropologists who combine research with community activism. A Professor of Africana Studies, she describes herself as a “womanist,” a feminist concerned with issues of race and class as well as gender. Her wide-ranging interest encompass urban, African-American, and feminist anthropology, the history and culture of the African Diaspora, oral and narrative research, and community activism, particularly regarding youth and low-income housing issues. She is also an expert on the history of Tampa’s Black communities.


Rebecca Schoffman

Rebecca Schoffman, ABD
Graduate Assistant, USF Institute on Black Life


Rebecca is a first-generation American and a native Floridian. She received her bachelor’s in political science from Florida Atlantic University, and master’s in international affairs from Florida State University. She is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of South in the School of Global Studies and a graduate assistant for the Institute on Black Life. Her research interest includes international institutions, globalization, and international political economy. During her free time, Rebecca enjoys kayaking, running, exploring the local food and arts scene in the Tampa Bay area.


Gevey Robinson

Geveryl Robinson, MFA
USF St. Petersburg Campus


Baltimore native, Geveryl Robinsonis an educator, author, screenwriter, and former columnist for the Savannah Morning News. Her columns and musings have been mentioned or featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, the Dallas Morning News, More magazine, and many other online and print publications. Geveryl’s 2015 debut novel, From the Ground to God, became an Amazon number 1 best-seller, and in 2016 Geveryl’s parent’s love story and her views about Black love were featured in the award-winning Historically Black podcast series in conjunction with The Washington Post, American Public Radio, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. In 2018, after the theatrical release of Black Panther, Geveryl was selected to be a contributor for the internationally distributed Black Panther Syllabus. A former instructor at Clemson University where she was the Associate Editor for Clemson’s literary journal, The South Carolina Review, and the Faculty/Production Advisor for Tiger Scratch Productions, Clemson’s student film organization, Geveryl presently teaching in the English Dept. at USFSP where she is a 2021 recipient of the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy’s Faculty Excellence Award for her forthcoming documentary, “Violently Polite,” slated for release in 2022.


Gwendolyn Reese

Gwendolyn Reese
President, African American Heritage Association of St. Pete, Inc.


Gwendolyn D. Reese is the President and CEO of Peaten Reese Peaten Consulting, Inc., providing professional development and consultation services to individual and organizations in Florida and beyond. Ms. Reese is President of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, FL, Inc. The Heritage Association create and curates the African American Heritage Trails along 22nd Street and 9thAvenue in South St. Petersburg. Reese serves on the Voice Heard Voices Matter Bloomberg Harvard Equity Group with the focus of ensuring equity and engaging and sustaining community involvement in the redevelopment of Tropicana Field. Additionally, she is a member of the Commission to Study Structural Racism in the City of St. Petersburg, the Sankofa Project Advisory Council, and the Community Benefits Agreement Policy Council.


Jon Wilson

Jon Wilson
Vice President, African American Heritage Associate of St. Pete, Inc.


A native of Scottsbluff, NE., Jon Wilson moved to St. Petersburg with his family in 1956. He attended local schools. He was a reporter for the St. Petersburg Evening Independent and the St. Petersburg Times for 37 years. Wilson is the author of the St. Petersburg Historic 22nd Street South and St. Petersburg’s Historic African American Neighborhoods, and is vice president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, FL, Inc.


Natacha Yazbeck

Natacha Yazbeck, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Community Journalism
Department of Journalism and Digital Communication
University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus


Natacha Yazbeck, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Community Journalism at the University of South Florida, where she directs the Neighborhood News Bureau. She holds a 2021-2022 Knight News Innovation Fellowship at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and a 2021 arts grant from the Leeway Foundation. She is the recipient of the International Communication Association’s Outstanding Dissertation in Journalism Studies Award for 2021. A multimedia journalist and former foreign correspondent, Yazbeck’s literary nonfiction work and photography have been published by Penguin, Polity, Sage and Getty Images. She covered conflict, politics and culture in Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen for close to a decade for Agence France-Presse (AFP). She holds a Ph.D. in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. in Communication from Annenberg and an M.A. in Sociology from the American University of Beirut.


Casey Frechette

Casey Frechette, Ph.D.
Associate Professor & Chair
Department of Journalism and Digital Communication
University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus


Casey Frechette, Ph.D., is an associate professor at USF and the chair of the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication, where he teaches multimedia journalism and researches technology, journalism and related topics. Before joining USF, Frechette produced multimedia lessons for Navajo students at the University of New Mexico’s Technology and Education Center for four years and was an interactive learning producer at The Poynter Institute for seven years. He later became an adjunct at Poynter, teaching in the Institute’s online and in-person programs. Frechette has two decades of web development and e-learning experience, a master’s in media arts and computer science, and a doctorate in organizational learning and instructional technologies. His work has appeared in The Washington Post and Foreign Policy, and he is the co-author of Culturally Inclusive Instructional Design: A Guide and Framework for Building Online Wisdom Communities (Routledge, 2019), along with numerous book chapters and journal articles.


Afternoon Session

Jaleesa Blackshear


Ms. Jaleesa Blackshear
USF Alumni


Jalessa Blackshear is a mother, recording artist, student, and neighborhood activist. She was born and raised in Cape May, New Jersey. At the age of 19, she was called by her ancestors to return to her deep southern roots, in the city of St. Petersburg, FL. Blackshear's paternal
great, great grandparents settled on the northside of town during the segregation era, in a neighborhood called Methodist Town. She has lead mass city wide demonstrations in response to both local and national, civil unrest. Recently earning a B.A. in political science from the University of South Florida, Blackshear continues her pursuit of higher education. She plansto earn her masters at USF, in urban and regional planning.


Antoinette Jackson

Antoinette Jackson, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology
USF Tampa Campus
Director, USF Heritage Research Lab Founder, Black Cemetery Network (BCN)


Dr. Jackson is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Director of the USF Heritage Research Lab. As an applied cultural anthropologist, her interest is in heritage research and resource management. Her work challenges theoretical cannons that fix people in discrete categories and she continuously seeks ways to applying anthropology critically and in the service of people, families, and communities both within and outside the academy.


Wally Jennings

Walter “Wally B” Jennings
Spoken Word Artist for the African American Burial Ground Project
Assistant Director, Diversity Initiatives
Program Director, Black Leadership Network USF Foundation


Walter “Wally B” Jennings provides leadership for Diversity Initiatives within the USF Foundation. His responsibilities include developing, coordinating, and managing all programmatic elements for the USF Black Leadership Network (BLN)-an organization created to engage the community and enhance the educational and leadership opportunities for Black/African American Scholars at USF. He also coordinates special programs and donor-centered events for diversity initiatives and provides exceptional donor stewardship in his role. Last year, the BLN received the Forever 55 Legacy Grant to target local needs such as food security, sustainability, health and childhood education. This funding has allowed the BLN to expand their Peer Partnering program from the university to the grade school level, reaching younger generations by sending mentors to share information about USF and encourage high school students to attend college.


Corey Givens

Mr. Corey Givens
Community Activist


The oldest of four children and a fourth-generation native of St. Petersburg, FL. Corey Givens Jr. matriculated in Pinellas County Schools; graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2010, from Lakewood High School’s prestigious, Center for Advanced Technologies. Givens attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL, where he received his Associate in Arts. In 2014, he graduated from the University of South Florida, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at Howard University. Minister Givens is currently employed with the Pinellas County Job Corps Center and He also serves as Youth Pastor at The Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church. In addition to serving on the Junior League’s Community Advisory Council.

Minister Corey Givens Jr. has dedicated his life to service towards ALL of humanity.


LaDonna Butler

Dr. LaDonna Butler, Ed.D., LMHC
Associate Program Director, Family Study Center
USF St. Petersburg Campus


Dr. LaDonna Butler, Ed.D., LMHC is an Associate Program Director for the Family Study Center and an Adjunct Faculty member in Psychology on the St. Petersburg campus. From 2018-2020 she served as the Family Study Center’s Learning and Development Facilitator for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg sponsored-project “Trauma-Informed Infant-Family Mental Health,” and later served as PI for an expansion of that initiative, “Reckoningwith Race and COVID-19 in Infant-Family Mental Health.”


Serena Lewis

Serina Lewis, MSW
Family Study Center, USF St. Petersburg Campus


Serina Lewis, MSW, provides administrative and clinical support for the Family Study Center and its Infant-Family Center. She has been involved with the Family Study Center in numerous capacities for over 10 years. She served as the Field Operations Coordinator for the “Figuring It Out for the Child” (FIOC) initiative for over 6 years and is a co-author of the forthcoming reports describing the child and family outcomes from that NICHD-funded program.


Carole Alexander

Carole Kimpson Alexander
CEO, The Next STEPP Center


Carole Kimpson Alexanderis the CEO of The Next STEPP Center - Services to Those Experiencing Pregnancy or Parenting, a non-profit Christian organization serving St. Petersburg, FL and surrounding communities. She has served the center for over 27 years in providing life-affirming solutions as well as medical and social support services to women, men, teens and families facing pregnancy, parenting and related challenges. Prior to her employment with Next STEPP, Mrs. Alexander was the Assistant Vice President of Training and Development for a $2 Bilion Florida financial institution.

Carole has been a presenter at conferences on the national, state and local levels. Topics have included Cultural Responsiveness in Client Services, Building Bridges to the African American Community, and The Impact of Stereotypes & Implicit Bias in Client Interactions, to name a few. She desires to equip organizations and  individuals to effectively engage and serve communities of color related to the racial disparities that exist in maternal health, and birth outcomes in the United States.

Mrs. Alexander serves as president of Achieving Equity Together, Inc., as a member of the board of directors for Healthy Start Coalition of Pinellas County, and is a member of the Black Health Equity Alliance of PinellasCounty and of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Healthy Start Federal Project Community Action Network. She is past president of the St. Petersburg Midtown Rotary International Club and their current membership chair. Her goal in community serviceis eliminating racial disparities and other issues of health equity to improve the physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being of every person. Over the years, Carole has served with a variety of Christian and community organizations in working toward a community where the God-given value and worth of all human life is affirmed and supported.


Bilan Joseph

Dr. Bilan Joseph
Director of Thrive by Five at Community Foundation Tampa Bay


Dr. Bilan Joseph is an educator with 15 years of experience within the public, private, and charter school sectors. Dr. Joseph has earned her doctorate in education with a specialization in Reading and Literacy. For fifteen years, her passion was motivating teens to reach their highest potential amidst high stakes testing and low literacy proficiency rates. Dr. Joseph is now the director of a non-profit network of organizations working towards ensuring that every child who enters kindergarten is holistically ready to be there. It is in this role that Dr. Joseph was reminded that one of the best ways to take care of children is to partner with the adults caring for them. Through her consulting firm, The Education Enthusiast LLC, Dr. Joseph provides parents with practical tips and tools to help them be their child's first teacher and the very best advocate for their child's overall success. Dr. Joseph currently resides in sunny Florida with her husband and three children.


Veatrice Farrell

Veatrice Farrell
Executive Director The Deuces Live


A neighborhood builder, a place maker, Veatrice Farrell has been honoring the history of the Deuces corridor by driving its future. Her work as Executive Director of The Deuces Live is torevitalize the historic 22ndStreet South district through advocacy, development and promoting the deep cultural roots of the community.


Leon Jackson

Mr. Leon Jackson
Courageous 12 Retired Officer, St. Petersburg Police Departmen


Retired Officer Mr. Leon Jackson, now 81 years of age, is the last surviving member of the Courageous 12 who were 12 Black officers, who fought the City of St. Petersburg for equality in the workplace. In the 60’s, Black officers were not allowed to work in white neighborhoods, could only arrest other Black citizens and were not allowed to take the sergeant’s exam. On May 11, 1965. The group filed a lawsuit in federal court and won their case on August 1, 1968, which won them the right to carry out their jobs as intended and to be considered for promotion. These 12 courageous police officers led the way for all minorities to serve all communities in every rank of law enforcement not only in St. Petersburg, but also in the entire United States of America. Mr. Leon Jackson is not only Black History, but he and the Courageous 12 are a part of American History.


LaShante Keys

LaShante Keys


LaShante Keys career can be described as the gentleman who has facilitated uncomfortable but necessary discussions around racism, bigotry and bias but also end of life care. Two of the hardest topics for individuals to have are courageous conversations centered around discrimination and death. 

A native Floridian, born and raised in St. Petersburg. LaShante holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), a B.A. in Communications, from the University of South Florida (USF) and a M.S. in Human Services with a concentration in Organizational Management and Leadership from Springfield College.  

He has developed and delivered hundreds of trainings throughout the United States centered on diversity, team building, organizational development and cultural competency. Clients have included corporations, non-profits, service organizations, government officials, municipalities and universities.   

In addition, LaShante has designed and implemented a variety of programs to assist youth struggling academically and emotionally. In developing these programs his overall goal is to have participating students demonstrate improved academic achievement and learning gains in core academic subjects and gain a sense of self worth and confidence which will help them in life. In 2014, he completed and presented his research on “What are the motivational factors that impact academic success in African-American males?” 

LaShante is involved with numerous organizations such as Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. where he is currently the Guide Right Director for the Southern Province which covers Florida, Alabama and The Bahamas, University of South Florida (USF) African American Advisory Board and Florida A&M University Alumni Association to name a few. 


Nick Davis

Mr. Nick Davis
Digital Artist, Nick Davis LLC  


With the evolution of technology and the rise of self-sufficient creators, Nick Davis is taking the world of multimedia art by storm.

Inspired by the greats who came before him such as Brooklyn graffiti pioneer Jean-Michel Basquiat, the St. Petersburg, FL native began sketching and painting at a young age. In 2019, Davis took on digital artistry after epilepsy left him unable to work. Using an iPad gifted to him by his wife, he began to experiment with computer generated artwork. He would soon realize that he was not only determined to master his technique, but that he wanted to use the artform to depict the raw emotions of Blacks in their day to day joy and struggles. Before long, Davis constructed an entire collection of digital art that portrayed his love for his culture, appropriately titled, Black Is Beautiful.

Davis and his Black Is Beautiful masterpieces soon attracted national and international recognition. In November 2019, he was recognized by BET as their Artist of the Week during their BET Air segment. UK based media company WhatsOn featured Davis’s work the following month in one of its publications. He was also featured on PBS as a part of their WEDU Arts Plus series in January 2020.  Additionally, Davis has been highlighted in The Weekly Challenger, Creative Pinellas and on Tampa Bay’s Local News Station, CBS Channel 10 and more. In June 2020, his Black Is Beautiful collection was showcased at the Dunedin Fine Art Center & later Studio@620 Gallery in Feb 2021. He has recently received the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant and  work included in  using his art as a method of coping with anxiety and depression, Davis wants to let his community know that despite the current state of the world, your Black remains immeasurably beautiful. 


Rebecca Johns

Rebecca Johns, Ph.D.  
Associate Professor, School of Geosciences 
USF St. Petersburg Campus 


Rebecca Johns, Ph.D. is an associate professor of geography based on the St. Petersburg campus. She received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University and her M.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, both in Geography. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University. Dr. Johns held the Frank E. Duckwall Professor of Florida Studies endowed chair from 2016 to 2018. Dr. Johns’ recent scholarly work focuses on rhetorical representations of human-nature relationships in environmental education programs and exhibits, including parks, museums, zoos and aquariums. Dr. Johns worked with the Initiative on Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (iCAR), for which she served as Director of Community Education and Outreach from 2015 to 2021.  Recent work includes several research projects related to building community resilience to climate change in vulnerable and marginalized neighborhoods of St. Petersburg, including a project with Dr. Barnali Dixon, funded by ATT & the Argonne Lab of the Department of Energy. Dr. Johns recently received a grant to conduct research at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and has a contract to publish her book on the social creation of nature, environmental citizenship and social action with the University of Florida Press. Visit Dr. Johns’ website at


Barnali Dixon

Barnali Dixon, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Geosciences
Executive Director, Initiative of Coastal Adaptation and Resilience (iCAR)
USF St. Petersburg Campus


Dr. Barnali Dixon is a Professor at the School of Geosciences and contributor to the Geography and Environmental Science and Policy programs. Dr. Dixon is the Director of the Geospatial Analysis Lab (G-SAL) and the Executive Director and PI for the Initiative on Coastal Adaptation andResilience (iCAR) at USF. Her research focuses on the development of Environmental Decision Support Systems (EDSS) integrated with Geospatial Technologies and geocomputation for modeling and managing land-water interfaces for water contamination vulnerability, with a particular focus on terrestrial source and aquatic sinks in the context of extreme weather events and climate change that has differential impacts on diverse communities.


Erica Hall

Erica Hall, M.S., CED, MBA
ARMBoard Chair/Executive Director, Florida Food Policy Council


Erica Hall, M.S. CED, MBA, ARM, has a multi-disciplinary background as a community economic development practitioner, community organizer, environmental justice advocate, Board member, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) facilitator/trainer/consultant, and Senior Legal Professional with interests in intersectional environmentalism exploring the connection between sustainability, resiliency, food waste, climate change, food insecurity, the built form and placemaking, economic resilience, racial, social justice and equity, housing diversity, and affordability. Erica is currently the Board Chair/Executive Director of the Florida Food Policy Council; a statewide food policy council working to explore and address gaps in the food system in Florida. Erica is also Executive Committee Vice-Chair of the Suncoast Sierra Club, Co-Chair-Sierra Club Florida Chapter Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EIJ) Committee, and a member of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Food Security Advisory Committee. Erica is active in the US Green Building Council (USGBC), American Planning Association, and other environmental, neighborhood revitalization groups working in urban agriculture, food advocacy and policy, community engagement, non-profit management, Board development, environmental justice, neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation, and community economic development at the Federal, State, and local levels in NYC, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, and now throughout the State of Florida.


Kenneth Bryant

Dr. Kenneth Bryant, M.D.


Dr. Bryant is a 1978 graduate of the University of Florida College of Medicine. He enjoyed a private practice of urology in St. Petersburg, Florida for thirty years before joining the CW “Bill” Young VA Medical Center as a Chief of Urology in 2015. He retired in 2020. He is a member of numerous professional and civic organizations but is most engaged with The Minority Health Coalition of Pinellas, Inc. as founder and president. This not-for-profit organization focuses on community health education with an emphasis on health disparities. The coalition organizes the African American Health Forum, an annual community health education event in Midtown 1 St. Petersburg. Dr. Bryant has recently cultivated an interest in the health affects of climate change/sea level rise and how it may affect the health of at risk communities.



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Throughout the pandemic, USF’s primary concern has always been the health and safety of our students, staff, and stakeholders. USF is complying with CDC guidelines for meetings and events. Although these precautions will be in place, those at high medical risk and the unvaccinated should consider forgoing attendance. Find out more about USF’s Return to Campus.
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