Nathaniel Styles Sr. was “born with a leadership role.”
So says son, Nathaniel Styles Jr. of his father who, in 1967, fulfilled that destiny by becoming the first black Florida juvenile parole officer during the Civil Rights era, a position he held for 32 years.
Styles, who died Dec. 9 at 73, would serve a number of youth counseling roles with the state.
Born the youngest of seven in St. Petersburg, on May 9, 1942, Styles was only a few years older than some of his siblings’ youngest children. This put him on both ends of the discipline scale and gave him a sharp perspective on overseeing and, later, mentoring youth.
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“He really understood the significance of discipline, having been repeatedly disciplined by his eldest siblings,” his son said. “He came from a family of educators — his grandmother was principal of a school in Montezuma, Georgia, and his mother’s brother was the dean of the school of music at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, one of the oldest African-American universities.
“Education and discipline had been constantly reinforced, especially in a large family dealing with diverse characters and personalities … [It’s] a microcosm of society, prepares you for the challenges of life,” Styles Jr. said of his father’s background and role as patriarch.
After graduating from Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University in Tallahassee with a bachelor’s in political science and post-graduate studies in education at the University of Miami, Styles taught middle school briefly in Pennsylvania. He then moved to Miami in the late 1960s and took a job as a Florida juvenile parole officer and counselor.
Styles, who in 1995 transferred to the Department of Juvenile Justice as its human service program specialist, tapped aspects of his job to impress upon his own kin the value of a disciplined life.
His son remembers rides with his sister as their father transported children on parole to youth halls in Central Florida. “Seeing and experiencing that was a demonstration of what we did not want to be. Having 20-odd nieces and nephews as contemporaries and contrasting that with delinquent children, he was very stern, using real-day examples as to what they did not want to be.”
At Thursday evening’s wake, Styles Jr. said he was struck by how many grown men and women approached him to tell of how his father transformed their lives. He was moved. “I wasn’t aware of the impact he had and his status within the department.”
Styles, a Hall of Fame inductee at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg, had another talent few knew about. He had the choice to accept an athletic scholarship for basketball to FAMU or a fine arts scholarship. He opted for the former.
Styles Jr., an artist and founder of Miami’s Osun’s Village and African Caribbean Cultural Arts Corridor project, said he often wondered where his passion for the arts derived. After learning of his father’s talents he vowed to continue developing youth of African-American and Caribbean descent in the arts to honor his dad’s memory.
“He was the soul of African-American youth in the state of Florida.”
In addition to his son, Styles is survived by his wife Sylvia, his son Kareem and daughter Donna Maria Styles, his brother John and sister Gladys Styles Johnston. Services were held.
He was the soul of African-American youth in the state of Florida.
Nathaniel Styles Jr. on his father’s impact in juvenile correction.