Florida Black Chamber Presents Pan African Cultural Heritage Initiative at Leadership and Awards Conference


“Commerce, Culture, Community, Education, Influence, Knowledge, and Faith”

By: Tony McCray

The Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, led by its president, Eugene Franklin, held the Pan African Cultural Heritage Leadership Conference at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Downtown Pensacola to launch their Pan African and National Cultural Heritage Initiative. Franklin stated to the Gulf Coast Voice that, “A strategy of Commerce, Culture, Community, Education, Influence, Knowledge, and Faith provides Black and underserved areas the community revitalization ingredients for business entrepreneurship, job creation, in an environment that has the potential to produce a cultural heritage incubator of positive community change”!

Approximately seventy Initiative partners and leaders were invited to participate in the Florida Black Chamber’s conference that the presenters utilized to spotlight their research and projects as building blocks for an international Pan African and National Cultural Heritage Initiative network.  Local neighborhood organizations and businesses that were invited included the Tan Yard Neighborhood Association (on the southern end of Downtown Pensacola), the Gathering and Bookstore in the Belmont and DeVilliers Historical Business District, and the Polimbatree Performing and Cultural Arts Group located in the Englewood Community between the “E” Street Corridor and Pace Blvd south of Fairfield Drive.

However, the Florida Black Chamber made certain that there was attendance from across the globe to establish the momentum for the relationship building that would connect the National African-American Community with the strategic communities on the African Continent. For example, Nathalie Blanc Chekete, Cultural and Heritage Tourism Project Manager for the National Agency for Heritage and Tourism for the country of Benin, in Africa, spoke of her country’s work in developing a cultural heritage program and interviewed several of the conference attendees for feedback.  Then there is the example of Owen Roper traveled from Michigan to seek first hand advice on a community development project he is working on, that includes portions of the Pan African Heritage Initiative research model.

Highlights of the conference were presentations given by Dr. Phyllis Gray Ray, a professor and researcher at Florida A&M University and the Director of the Pan African Cultural Heritage Institute, Inc.  Her review of her acclaimed book that deals with the realities of African American history, “The African American Experience, Real and Imagined”, was truly well received! She was followed by Dr. Theresa Okorochukwu, a native of Nigeria, and graduate of the University of Florida and developer for African Network Television, located in Gainesville, Florida.  Theresa’s presentation allowed the audience to see the potential of marketing to the African Diaspora and showcased the cultures and huge growth of the Black middle-class!

The Luncheon Speaker was Alison Davenport, a local real estate broker and President of the Johnson Beach Society.  Alison spoke on her work in support of the Gulf Island National Seashores, better known locally as “Johnson Beach”. Her efforts to promote and improve the presentation of the history of Private First Class Rosamond Johnson, for whom the beach is named, was an eye-opening experience.  Alison was followed by Artist Sonja Griffin Evans, who now resides in Beaufort, South Carolina.  Sonja told of her decision to open the well-known “Gumbo Gallery” in the Belmont and De Villiers Historical Business District.  During her presentation, she described how she used the arts as a tool to promote the community in partnership with the Florida Black Chamber and Visit Pensacola.

Pam Tedesco, President of Access Florida Finance and the National Black Business Support Corporation spoke of the organizations’ programs that support new and developing Black businesses and their programs to support artists.  Kitty Pope, Editor of the African Diaspora Tourism, an online tourism and travel magazine, took questions from the audience and allowed attendees to give their feedback on the conference. And finally, everyone was invited to attend the Private Rosamond Johnson Beach Celebration that was held on the following day on Johnson Beach.

The Estevanico Awards were presented in several categories to each of the speakers for their work in support of the Pan African and National Cultural Heritage Initiative:  The awards were presented by Captain Frank Smith USN/Retired and the Chamber’s Chairman of the Board and Hank Harris, the Director of the National Black Tourism Marketing Corporation.as follows: The Chairman’s Award to Dr. Phyllis Gray Ray, for work as Director of the Pan African Cultural Heritage Institute, Inc.;  The Sponsor of the Year to The African Television Network, Inc., owned by Theresa and Victor Okorochukwu, for work in connecting and promoting Pan African culture and heritage; Person of the Year to Alison Davenport, President – Johnson Beach Society, for her work on the Private Rosamond Johnson Beach Celebration and Commemoration; The President’s Award to Sonja Griffin Evans, Artist, for her work in support of Cultural Heritage Tourism and the Arts and her traveling exhibit, “From Whence I Came! – De Villiers!”; Partner of the Year to  Pam Tedesco, National and Florida Black Business Support Corporation, for her work in funding Black Businesses and The Cultural Heritage Tourism Award to Kitty Pope, Publisher – African Diaspora Tourism Magazine, for her work in support of the Pan African and National Cultural Heritage Initiative.

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