Community Voices

Longtime Miami activist, 94, at last receives the ‘recognition she deserves’

Miami and Miami-Dade County elected officials with Nancy Dawkins at the 2017 unveiling of Nancy Dawkins Way.
Miami and Miami-Dade County elected officials with Nancy Dawkins at the 2017 unveiling of Nancy Dawkins Way. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Retired, but not tired, Nancy Sydney Dawkins, 94, admits to slowing down.

She does not attend as many meetings but is still active in organizations she feels help the community. On her own, she contacts elected officials to correct injustices for residents in her neighborhood and throughout the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County.

A charter member of the (Charles) Hadley Park Homeowners Association, she helped secure funding and provided community oversight for the building of the Carrie P. Meek Center at the park. As a result of her leadership and the support of others, the center is equipped with a full-service gym, water aquatics, social services and recreational activities.

It is used by hundreds of senior citizens.

In gratitude for her dedicated volunteer service, the neighbors association requested that the street she and her family lived on for over 60 years be named in her honor. Supported by Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, the city commission in 2017 unanimously voted to co-designate Northwest 50th Street between 12th and 17th Avenues “Mrs. Nancy S. Dawkins Way.”

According to Debra Dawkins (not related), president of the AARP Northwest Miami Chapter 4686, “Mrs. Nancy Dawkins is finally receiving the recognition she deserves as an influencer.”

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Nancy Dawkins speaks at a meeting of the The King of Clubs. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Early in 2018, Nancy Dawkins was recognized at Beta Tau Chapter, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority’s Finer Womanhood Awards Luncheon, at the King of Clubs of Greater Miami Scholarship Banquet and nominated for AARP’s 60th anniversary Trailblazer Award.

As founder and president emeritus of AARP’s Northwest Chapter, Nancy Dawkins continues to serve on the board of directors. Her other affiliations include charter member of the South Florida Business and Professional Women’s Club; the Metropolitan Dade County Section of the National Council of Negro Women; Golden Life Member, Miami Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and a former Girl Scout leader.

Nancy Dawkins became interested in “helping others by solving problems” as a wife, mother and homeowner when she and her husband, the late Miami Commissioner Miller Dawkins, moved into the historic Railroad Shop settlement with their son, the late Myron Dawkins.

“Years ago, sometimes the trash in our community was not picked up for more than a week,” she recalls. “The neighbors would complain to each other. I took the complaints as requests to our homeowners association and then downtown to officials. Eventually that got me into politics, by helping elect the officials who best responded to the residents. In the 1970s I participated in the campaigns of the late Gwen Sawyer Cherry and later with Barbara Carey Shuler, Carrie Meek, Bob Graham and many others.”

Over time, Nancy Dawkins became active with the League of Women Voters and AAUW (The American Association of University)-Tamiami Branch, the group she co-organized with the late Eugenia B. Thomas.

An educator for 35 years, Mrs. Dawkins worked in numerous schools including Liberty City Elementary, Holmes Elementary, C.O.P.E. Center and Booker T. Washington Jr.-Sr. High School.

On a personal note, I know first-hand about Mrs. Dawkins’ ability “to get things done.” We met at Booker T. in 1976 through a mutual colleague and friend, the late Marian H. Shannon, my former high school journalism teacher and mentor.

For the 1976 USA Bicentennial celebration, I established the Kwanzaa Oratorical and Declamation contests for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. A former librarian and then educational specialist in the MDCPS Department of Social Sciences, I combined The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa with a tradition in black churches requiring Sunday School students “to practice public speaking and write essays for presentation at annual Easter and Christmas programs.” Once the contests were incorporated into the curriculum the project grew beyond my reach.

I recruited Mrs. Dawkins to solve the problem. She did and the Kwanzaa contests evolved into The Theodore Gibson Oratorical Project focused on oratory, declamation and advocacy.

The first event was held Dec. 14, 1977, at Booker T. Washington Junior High School with faculty mentors Shannon, Evelyn S. Wynn, Thomas Wright and the late Clarence Brown.

In later years, the project was moved to Miami Dade College’s North Campus with support from former campus presidents Dr. Castell Bryant and Dr. Jose A. Vicente. Miami-Dade County Public Schools associate superintendents Dr. George M. Koonce and Milagros “Millie” Fornell were instrumental in the continued growth of the project.

As a result of Nancy Dawkins’ efforts nearly 150 schools participate.

The Gibson oratory and declamation committees work year round on this project under the leadership of the North Campus President Malou C. Harrison and Dr. Sherrilynn Scott, Miami-Dade Schools’ district supervisor for social sciences.

Forty-one years later at the 2018 presentation, Mrs. Dawkins and Gibson’s great-granddaughter, Devini, witnessed “best practices” in education excellence: the literary art of oration, declamation and advocacy. For more, visit www.mdc.edu/north/gibson.

For her upcoming 95th birthday Nancy Dawkins’ wish is to solve the problem of apathetic voters, “the best way to make things better is to register and vote!”

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