Community Voices

Prime minister honors South Florida pioneers of Bahamian descent

Andy Ingraham, of the South Florida  Bahamian diaspora, left, Bahamas Consul General Florida Linda Mackey and Deputy Consul General Florida Sandra Carey present a plaque to Garth C. Reeves at the 2018 Bahamian independence celebration.
Andy Ingraham, of the South Florida Bahamian diaspora, left, Bahamas Consul General Florida Linda Mackey and Deputy Consul General Florida Sandra Carey present a plaque to Garth C. Reeves at the 2018 Bahamian independence celebration.

After 325 years of peaceful British rule, The Bahamas became a free and sovereign country July 10, 1973.

Nearly forty-five years after independence in Nassau, Bahamas, the National Independence Committee planned activities that extended to the Family Islands with the anniversary theme, “Celebrate Bahamas, We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”

On the islands of The Bahamas, as well as in countries and nation states around the globe where Bahamian embassies and missions are located, the independence celebrations were given prominence on the national calendar of events.

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Dorothy Jenkins Fields

“Across the pond” in South Florida, numerous regional events were held for a month. Beginning June 21, the Honorable Dr. Hubert Minnis, prime minister of the commonwealth of The Bahamas, led the official ribbon cutting ceremony and official opening of his country’s foreign mission office in South Florida. Located for several decades in downtown Miami’s Ingraham Building, the new location is nearby at 100 N. Biscayne Blvd.

Consul General Linda Diane Mackey, appointed by Minnis, continues the mission of the office providing service to non-Bahamians seeking visas to visit the country, Bahamians needing passport services, as well as planning and implementing annual events.

Joining the prime minister for the opening celebration were members of South Florida’s diplomatic corps including Deputy Consul Generals of Jamaica, Barbados and Germany and other foreign missions.

At the ceremony, Minnis announced his administration’s 10-year plan to identify Bahamians both home and abroad who can develop into future leaders of the country.

On July 15, five South Florida pioneers of Bahamian descent were honored for their accomplishments and contributions to the local community over many decades in spite of setbacks, disappointments and challenges:

  • Mayor Eric H. Jones Jr., 72, is a descendant of Crooked Island, Bahamas. The first mayor of the city of West Park in Broward County, he was elected on March 8, 2005. He also serves as senior pastor at Koinonia Workshop Center & Village, which he founded in 1979. Born in Avon Park, Florida, he graduated from Attucks High School in 1965. He has received recognition for numerous community outreach programs and served as a director on several boards.

  • Dr. Gershwin Blyden, M.D., PhD., is an internist with specialties in oncology and hematology. A graduate of Yale University School of Medicine in 1979, he set up a private practice in Miami and affiliated with the North Shore Medical Center, Jackson Health system, Memorial Regional Hospital and the Foundation For Sickle Cell Disease Research. He serves on Florida Memorial University’s Board of Trustees.

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Cornelia Payne Sands with her onetime Booker T. Washington High School teacher, Georgiana Johnson Bethel. George Storr
  • Georgiana Johnson Bethel, 95, is a descendant of Eleuthera Island and Hatchet Bay, Bahamas. She was born in what is now Little Havana, before black families were relocated to Overtown. After graduating from Florida A&M College (FAMU), she returned and taught business education at her alma mater, Booker T. Washington Jr./Sr. High School in Miami’s Overtown. During World War II, she worked for the McKissick brothers, a black architectural firm that designed St. John Institutional Baptist Church and many other buildings in Overtown. In the 1960s, she was one of the first black teachers reassigned to Miami Beach Senior High school for the purpose of integrating Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

  • Thelma Gibson, 92, a retired registered nurse, was born in Miami’s Coconut Grove, where she graduated from George Washington Carver High School in 1944. After graduating from nursing school in Raleigh, North Carolina, she returned to Miami. In addition to nursing, her accomplishments include interim Miami commissioner, founder of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Dade County, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Fund and a University of Miami Trustee. In May, she was honored for distinguished service at the Jackson Memorial Hospital Centennial.

  • Garth C. Reeves, 99, was born in Nassau. He is publisher emeritus of The Miami Times newspaper. His parents relocated to Miami, when he was 4 months old. He graduated from Booker T. Washington Jr./Sr. High School in 1936 and Florida A&M College in 1940 before serving the in the U.S. Army during World War II. He is the first African American to serve on the governing boards of Miami Dade College, Barry University, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Dade County. Organizing chair of Florida’s first integrated bank, he helped integrate local beaches, parks and golf courses. A longtime member of Florida Memorial University’s board of directors, he continues to serve on the board of the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex. Nationally, Reeves served two terms as president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and president for 10 years of the Amalgamated Publishers of New York City representing the majority of African-American-owned U.S. papers.

A record crowd recognized the honorees at the ecumenical service held at the Historic Agnes’ Episcopal Church located in Overtown. The milestone independence celebration in South Florida ended July 21 with the annual Association of Bahamians (NAB) Scholarship Gala for youth, intended to support future honorees.

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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