The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg continued its Speakers Who Inspire Series at its new Center for Health Equity on Monday, February 10 with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Dr. Kendi is the National Book Award-winning author of “Stamped from the Beginning” and “How to Be an Antiracist,” and the most recent high-profile personality to address a full-capacity crowd in the new collaborative space at 2333 34th St. S. The center was first opened to the public in October 2019 when award-winning journalist, and first African-American female host of NPR’s All Things Considered, Michele Norris kicked off the series in its new home. Constructed in supermarket space that had been vacant for five years by the time the foundation took it over, the address is significant given the facility’s mission to foster a healthier and more equitable community.
“It was a Publix grocery store originally, in 1950-something,” said President and CEO of The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg Randy Russell, noting that the space had been through several iterations over the decades, through a period that “as a black person, you would not be allowed to come on this side of the street after sundown until the early 70s.”
The Center for Health Equity aspires to be more than a forum for speakers, though.
“It’s not just an event space,” said Russell. “It’s a way of being, to create opportunities for the unheard voices to be heard.”
The foundation created the Center for Health Equity as a new approach to solving deeply-rooted community problems. The board, Russell says, envisioned a dedicated space for “incubating” social change and community, for fostering creativity and solving issues on neutral ground with the resources and tools necessary for success.
“We sort of see ourselves and the space as an amplifier of the lived experience,” he said, “in taking it to the systems that are causing the disruption in lives, that have outcomes being disproportionate based on race.” The creation of the physical space, as stated on the center’s website at healthequitycenter.org, was rooted in the foundation’s belief that such a place would promote the gathering of “an unexpected combination of people together to build a healthier and more equitable Pinellas County.”
In years past, the foundation had to rent spaces to hold events like the Speakers series and the upcoming
“Kingian Nonviolence Training Core Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation Workshop” on March 27 and 28, a two-day course that teaches the concepts, strategies and tools of conflict reconciliation based on the philosophy and methodology of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The center, with its versatile and modifiable layout, now allows the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg a consistent and permanent location to perform its work for the community.
“We’ve had 140 events in the last five months,” said Russell, noting that the events of the center are community-led. “If you have an idea you can simply submit – at any one of our events or online – that idea that says ‘I want to talk about this’,” Russell explained, adding that all social change ideas submitted are cataloged and curated, allowing the foundation to “help people shape the change they want to see.”
“Whatever topic you want to talk about, as long as it’s about race equity,” said Russell, “we’re going to try and scale your idea and carry it.”