Award winners recall Stephens’ activism
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Each of the recipients at the Edwina Stephens Community Leaders Award Banquet praised the community advocate Saturday evening for her work that has changed or affected their lives in some way.
Stephen, who died in 2011 after doing much of her work on the Southside, was even referred to as being an icon. Stephens was known especially for calling out elected leaders to bring change to her community.
The event took place at Walker-Ford Center, where Stephens had a profound effect on children in the Bond neighborhood. Even some of the leaders that she took issues to.
Former Tallahassee City Manager Anita Favors, one of the three honorees, was one of them. FAMU President Larry Robinson and Joe Thomas, former director of the Walker-Ford Center, were the other honorees.
Favors recalled how she was mentored by Stephens.
“She chose who she wanted to mentor,” said Favors. “You didn’t get to choose her. She chose you but once you were chosen, you had an awesome responsibility.”
Stephens was steadfast in the causes that she fought for, said city Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox while deliver the keynote speech.
She recalled the time when there was a push for a new elementary school on the Southside. Stephens wanted to keep Bond Elementary while Williams-Cox was among a group that wanted a new state-of -the-art school.
Stephens refused to let up on her stance because she wanted the school in Bond, believing that the community will suffer without it, Williams-Cox said.
“She fought for what she believed,” Williams-Cox said. “We fought for what we believed. She won and we loved her still. Bond Elementary is a thriving elementary school and her legacy continues in this community.
“She knew that in order to make change happen in communities, you had to not only know the issues (but) you had to know the people that could do something about the issues.”
Stephens’ activism went beyond community work. A nurse by profession, she pushed for changes in healthcare and stood up for positive environmental change.
Robinson acknowledged that he didn’t know as much of Stephens as the other honorees. However, he said the award suggests he is moving the university in right direction.
“We have recruited students from all over the world,” he said. “Our primary role is to enhance the lives of the individuals right here in the shadow of Florida A& University and we are going to do that. This award suggest we just might be doing some things right.”
Thomas, who spent 37 years at Walker-Ford, said Stephens was constantly advocating for whatever the center needed.
Stephens is one of the founders of the Foundation and the award was named in her honor five years ago, said DeLoris Myrick, director of the foundation. The Foundation has also established a Wall of Fame in her honor at the Smith-Williams Center.
“Miss Stephen was a great, great icon,” said Hubert Brown, vice president of the Foundation. “She truly has been missed at that (Smith-Williams) Center and the Walker/Ford Center.”