Community Voices

AARP’s Miami Northwest Chapter to celebrate 25th anniversary with tribute to late activist

Leaders and members of AARP Northwest Chapter 4686 in October receive an award for community service at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. School Board Vice Chairwoman Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, center left; AARP NW Chapter President Emeritus Nancy Dawkins; AARP 10th chapter President Debra Dawkins. School Board Attorney Walter Harvey is pictured far left.
Leaders and members of AARP Northwest Chapter 4686 in October receive an award for community service at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. School Board Vice Chairwoman Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, center left; AARP NW Chapter President Emeritus Nancy Dawkins; AARP 10th chapter President Debra Dawkins. School Board Attorney Walter Harvey is pictured far left. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Members of AARP’s Miami Northwest Chapter 4686 are preparing for their 25th anniversary celebration. At the big celebration on Dec. 5, the chapter will honor longtime member and activist Henry Goa, who died Oct. 16 at age 86.

Chartered Nov. 15, 1991, the goal is to promote independence, dignity and accomplishments for older Americans. A nongovernmental, nonprofit community service organization, it is open to all who are members of the national AARP and over 50 years old. Originally known as the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP was established in 1958.

In Miami, the Northwest Chapter began when retired educator Nancy Dawkins invited a group of friends to meet with AARP representatives John and Barbara Rudd. Arrangements were made by then-Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler for the initial meeting to be held at the Model City Library located at the Joseph Caleb Neighborhood Center. In attendance were Dorothy Graham, Hosley Gray, Emanuel Hutcheson and Ellen Heidt.

The follow-up meeting at the library drew more interest. In attendance were George Ellis, the Rev. James Cash, Cecile McCartney, James McFagden, Dorothy Edwards, Benny O’Berry, Elry Sands, Martha Day, Genevieve Lockhart and Leon McCartney. Dr. Gilbert and Mrs. Willie Pearl Porter were also early supporters.

Unlike religious gatherings, sororities and fraternities and social and civic meetings the Northwest Chapter would focus solely on addressing the needs and interests of middle-age and older persons. Word spread so quickly that the library where the first meeting was held was not large enough to accommodate the curious. Then-Miami Commissioner Miller Dawkins was contacted, and arrangements were made for the group to meet at Charles Hadley Park.

The first officers were elected, and Nancy Dawkins became president. Monthly meetings featured speakers presenting current trends and information. The meeting room at the park was cramped, and there were few chairs. There was no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. The neighborhood park needed an upgrade and equipment for the children.

Determined to improve the conditions at the park, the Northwest Chapter invited Miami commissioners and the Charles Hadley Home Owners and Tenant Association to visit and see first-hand the deplorable conditions where the children played.

Commissioners Dawkins and J.L. Plummer took the lead in recommending changes and the funding for the construction of a senior citizens and cultural center adjacent to the park. The Home Owners Association made several trips to city hall to help in the planning of the building.

Several years later, the Carrie P. Meek Senior Citizens and Cultural Center opened, and the Northwest Chapter began meeting in the new facility. Currently, there are about 150 members.

Historically, Thanksgiving baskets were prepared and distributed to needy families. More recent chapter activities include participating in the Health Fair sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and the No More Broken Hearts Program Domestic Violence Workshop.

A fun group of retirees, chapter members have traveled to AARP national conferences on chartered buses to Las Vegas; Chicago; Anaheim, California; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Orlando; San Antonio, Texas; Minneapolis; and Los Angeles. Regional trips include the Senior Olympics in Goulds, Everglades National Park and Butterfly World in Broward.

One member who missed most of those trips was Henry Goa, president of the Hadley Home Owners and Tenants Association and the Northwest Chapter’s legislative committee chairman. For more than a decade, Goa remained in Miami on his vigil: maintaining the Carrie P. Meek Center, helping keep the surrounding community safer and making Hadley Park a “world-class” facility.

Goa was an educator. Before retirement, he worked in Miami-Dade County Public Schools beginning as a classroom teacher and ending as a regional superintendent. A community activist, he took the chapter’s volunteer legislative committee seriously. Hadley Park officials reported seeing him on the grounds every day when they arrived in the mornings and watched him leave in the late afternoon. He led a committee, known as Seniors on the Move, to follow through with government officials on projects to completion.

In 2015, resident Sam Latimore was appointed to the Hadley Home Owners and Tenants Association’s board of directors. A former criminal justice practitioner and law enforcement administrator, Latimore says Goa was his mentor. “He and I would ride throughout the community noting those things that jeopardized the safety and quality of life of all community residents.”

Systems were set up for citizens to report and follow up on issues that concerned them. Goa also focused on park buildings and grounds and insisted that corrective action be taken. Through his efforts, several renovations were made to the main building and adjacent grounds, enhancing the physical appearance. He also spoke often about lighting up the community, particularly on the corner of Northwest 50th Street and 12th Avenue.

Goa died Oct. 16 after another dedicated week at the park. To celebrate his life and legacy, the Coalition of Hadley Park Coalition will fulfill Goa’s dream of lighting up the community. A special event, “A Dream Come True,” is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the designated corner.

According to Debra Dawkins — 10th president on the chapter’s 25th anniversary — the AARP membership will celebrate several decades of community service, including Goa’s legacy of hard work. In particular, his ability to take charge and ability to make things happen will be recognized. Posthumously, he will be thanked for his dedication and vision.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Ph.D., is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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