The Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Resource Center held its ribbon cutting grand opening ceremony on Thursday October 2nd at its Downtown Pensacola location at 119 East Government Street across the street from the Seville Quarter. The momentous occasion was highlighted by Government Street being blocked-off with an outdoor event tent in the middle of the street with hors d’oeuvres and drinks being served to the attendees.
Dr. Brendan Kelly, the Vice President of University Advancement, served as the program’s emcee introducing the University of West Florida’s President, Dr. Judith Bense, as a “hurricane” of energy leading UWF in establishing the “premier” multicultural center. Of course, Dr. Bense, a celebrated archeologist, related her personal story of researching Pensacola’s rich culture and historic past elevating the significance of the occasion. She spoke of the unique “tapestry of Pensacola’s story” embedded with the distinctive multi-cultural heritage of so many ethnic groups.
The audience listened as Dr. Bense shared the experience of approaching Gulf Power Company to excavate the site of their new headquarters prior to construction. The parent corporation, the Southern Company, realized the significance of the request and agreed to finance the archeological research. Bense and her team found a virtual historical gold mine of artifacts and the remains of a Native American village. She cited the award presented by the National Park Service to Gulf Power for supporting the Bense led archeological research and with a determined look of achievement she stated, “And we are still working together!” Thus, the stage was set for a relationship which was nurtured to birth a multicultural center in 2014. She added, “This is Susan Story’s dream”, as she went on to thank Stan Connally and Bentina Terry of Gulf Power for keeping the dream alive.
Dr. Bense with her skillful presentation had set the stage for UWF’s corporate partners, Gulf Power and the Southern Company to take their bow with the next presentation by Stan Connally the President of Gulf Power. Connally focused his remarks on the significance of the center in allowing him, our community, and out-of-town visitors to learn more about the voices that make up Pensacola’s distinctive history. He added that the center will be, “keeping these voices strong as there are more voices to be heard.”
Next Dr. Brendan Kelly, introduced, Bentina Terry, Gulf Power Vice President as a “tropical storm of energy” getting things done in the Pensacola community. Terry shared the dream of the former Gulf Power President Susan Story and spoke of the seven year journey to cultivate the center’s vision and design. The project was shaped through focus groups, community meetings, and constant supportive negotiations from the once proposed Maritime Park site to the present Government Street location of the Beacon Building.
Jerry Maygarden, as the final speaker, depicted the magnitude of the event as the former Florida State Legislator, past Pensacola Mayor, and now Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce President serving as the Chairman of the UWF Historic Trust Board highlighted the significance of the multicultural center and the importance of heritage tourism to the Pensacola and Escambia County area. He stated in an interview, “Pensacola’s heritage is a cultural gumbo-cornucopia of flavors from around the world: Africa, Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia, the West Indies, and the Mediterranean. Our community is rich in diversity, and now we have a place to house and tell the stories of our people and past.”
Next week the Voice will highlight the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Resource Center’s design, exhibits, and collections in its archives. The center is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and staff can be reached at (850) 595-5840.