Community Voices

Neighbors in Religion: A tribute to Miami’s vibrant ‘spitfire,’ the late Georgia Jones Ayers

Georgia Jones Ayers in 2011 posing outside the First Baptist Church in Miami.
Georgia Jones Ayers in 2011 posing outside the First Baptist Church in Miami. MIAMI HERALD File

On Tuesday, the Miami-Dade County community gathered at the home-going services of another South Florida icon: Georgia Jones Ayers.

It is hard to think of Georgia as being gone, because even on her sickbed, she was a vibrant “spitfire” (that’s what she called herself) still trying to save the world.

Georgia died Feb. 17 at age 86. I first met her just after the 1970 racial disturbance, the second one in two years in Liberty City. I was a new reporter who had been assigned to do a profile of her, an outspoken, grassroots activist.

I called her and we met at a small, greasy-spoon restaurant, known for its grits and salmon croquettes, at Northwest 62nd Street and Seventh Avenue in Liberty City. We clicked immediately. Over coffee and hot, buttered toast, I interviewed her and she interviewed me. Seems that our paths up to that point were similar.

Georgia, who was nearly 10 years my senior, was a single mother who reared her children alone. She was not ashamed to tell me that she had once been evicted from her Brownsville home.

“But the next day, I was right back in the neighborhood selling life insurance. I had to hold my head up and let the people know that I wasn’t beaten.”

As our friendship grew, Georgia adopted me as her “little” sister, a way of letting me know how she felt about me. The feeling was mutual. I was delighted to be her friend and “little” sister.

Once, when I was on my way home from a late-evening assignment, I turned the corner at Northwest 159th Street and 27th Avenue. I saw a large gathering of black youths in the parking lot of a small shopping area. It was 1972, Miami-Dade was still suffering from racial disturbances and and I was yet the eager, semi-cub reporter always on the look-out for a breaking story.

As I parked my car and got out, intending to ask the assembled police officers what was going on, I heard a familiar voice. It was Georgia’s. And in no uncertain terms, she was actually threatening the youngsters with the belt if they didn’t go home to their “mamas.”

Without a second thought, I joined Georgia. I recognized the faces of some of the boys, who were friends with my older son Rick, who at that time was about 14. Like Georgia, I told them to go home. Of course, her language was a bit more peppered than mine.

Times were tense in those days, and Georgia and I would often see the bodies of slain black boys on the street. Slowly, the crowd started to disperse and Georgia and I talked for a while and then we both went home.

Over the years, we often talked about that night and how we helped calm an angry crowd of black boys and avert another riot. I liked her version of the story better than mine.

She was always vigilant. Once in 1980, when the Arthur McDuffie riot was causing another break in community relations, Georgia, Carrie Meek (later a U.S. congresswoman) and I rode in Georgia’s car trying to get young black youngsters off the street.

We rode up to a police cruiser and several young black guys. Suddenly, Georgia pulled the car over, stopped and got out faster than an Olympic racer. The police were frisking the guys and Carrie and I begged Georgia to get back in the car. We were afraid she would be arrested.

Georgia’s reply to the both of us: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen!” and she was off to see what the matter was.

Over the years, our friendship grew. She was as protective of me as she was of her biological family.

We watched each other grow old. She laughed when she first noticed that my hair was turning white, like hers. “Gal, she would say, what’s your hair doing white?” Then, we both would laugh. It was hard for her to realize that I was also growing older.

Georgia’s voice has been stilled, but her work and love for her community will continue to speak loudly through The Alternative Program, which she founded in 1982 with then-Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Tom Petersen.

Kenneth Kilpatrick, president of The Alternative Program’s board of directors, has vowed to keep the program running. He will not be without help.

Uprooting Racism in America

The Social Justice Committee of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, is seeking interfaith participation in an Interactive Study Group on Uprooting Racism in America, to be at 7:30 p.m. on March 2, 9, 16 and 23.

The study group will approach racism by uncovering the role that whiteness and white privilege play in maintaining institutional inequality in American society, according to committee member William Turner.

“We will explore how the racialized education we continue to receive affects our beliefs, feelings and behaviors,” Turner said. “We will also study how immigration policies also play a significant role in the racial hierarchy.”

The study group will use the book, Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Pal Kivel, and will meet at the church, 7701 SW 76th St.

Kivel’s book is available on Amazon. Study materials will include videos, news articles and other sources.

To join the group and for more information, contact Turner at 305-962-5002 or wturnermiami@bellsouth.net.

Booker T. Washington alumni fundraiser for athletes

The Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW Eighth Ave. in Liberty City will host the Booker T. Washington Alumni Athlete Club’s 25th annual fundraiser for student athletes at 8 p.m. Friday.

The event will include a appearance by the popular Junkanoo Band, door prizes and a raffle.

Tickets are $20 per person and all proceeds will be donated to the Booker T. Washington High School’s Student Athletes/Academic Programs.

For more information, call Willie Warren at 305-542-0632, or log on to: http://btwalumniathleteclub.org.

Church Women United to meet

Women of all faiths are invited to the meeting of Church Women United, to be 10 a.m. March 5 at Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church, 2961 NW 175th St. in Miami Gardens.

The program this month is entitled “Human Relations.”

New pastor at Riviera Presbyterian Church

A warm Neighbors in Religion welcome to the Rev. Martha “Missy” Shiverick, who has been called to be the new pastor at Riviera Presbyterian Church at 5275 Sunset Dr. in South Miami.

Shiverick comes from Cleveland, where she worked as chaplain of a hospice she started more than a year ago. She also worked with a church in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Prior to those assignments, the minister served Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights and several other churches in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

She attended Rollins College in Winter Park and received her divinity degree at McCormick Theological Seminary, and a master of science degree in social work from Columbia University in New York. Her specialty is counseling individuals and families.

According to a news release, Shiverick said she feels “called to Riviera because she has previously worked with progressive congregations to bring them to a place of inclusivity.”

She said she is excited that “together, we will discern where God will call us next. We have the privilege and responsibility to see what happens in the next chapter. It is an awesome time,” she said.

Shiverick will preach her first sermon at Riviera at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 1. Everyone is invited.

Send all items at least two weeks in advance to Religion Notes, c/o Neighbors, 2000 NW 150th Ave., Suite 1105, Pembroke Pines, FL 33028, fax it to 954-538-7018 or email bea.hines@gmail.com. Pictures are accepted but cannot be returned.

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