Activist of the Year

Tolliver’s experiences leads to activism for many causes

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Everyone is believed to have a why whether it’s tangible or not.

Rev. Don Tolliver’s reason for doing what he does in his work for the community is very real. Tolliver’s pivotal experience goes back to his day as a student at Florida State University.

The series of event’s seemed to be etched in his memory. It started when his fraternity rented a building that had so many faults they ended up in court.

Tolliver’s group won, but the attorney who represented the renters of the house warned Tolliver that if they had another courthouse meeting it wouldn’t be pleasant.

They did and the lawyer who had become the deputy state attorney got a chance to see Tolliver in court. This time it was over an issue that resulted in the deputy state attorney keeping his word and hitting Tolliver with a wrongful felony.

Tolliver didn’t spend a minute incarcerated, but his life changed forever. He got to see what he’d only heard other Black men complain about. 

He was blacklisted from obtaining a state government job, as a result of the outcome in court. However, it left him to develop an entrepreneurial attitude that led to flourishing businesses.

Even with his success Tolliver refuses to go quietly into the sunset, taking every opportunity to fight for others.

“Being wronged in the justice system, I said I would never get back in the system or let anybody else be treated the way I was,” is the stance that Tolliver took. 

He added that marginalized individuals are “demoralize with the system so that you’ve got a (criminal) charge and you’ll be shunned.”

Today he stands for others, serving as vice president of the National Action Network alongside president of the local chapter, Rev, RB Holmes. Together they’ve mounted protests for underpaid teachers and helped in the effort to restore voting rights through Amendment 4 to felons who have served their time.

Years before taking on those battles, Tolliver volunteered at the homeless Shelter, which became the Kearney Center. 

That experience, Tolliver said, taught him that “There has to be hope somewhere.”

There have also been countless other issues that Tolliver confronted with NAN.

“You have to make sure that the establishment knows that they don’t run anything but their mouths,” he said, crediting Holmes and NAN’s national president Rev. Al Sharpton for inspiring him. “I don’t care your sex, your sexual orientation, your religion; if you’re being wronged that in itself is enough for me.” 

Tolliver has been so entrenched in civil rights causes, that the Capital Outlook has named him Activist of the Year. It is the second time since 2016 that he is being recognized for his activism.

“Rev Tolliver is an energetic activist,” said Holmes, publisher of the Outlook. “He has a heart to help the less fortunate. Because of his indomitable leadership the local National Action Network chapter has been recognized as the chapter of the year in 2021, and one of the most effective chapters this year.

“Rev. Tolliver is the face and voice when it comes to speaking truth to power and getting respect and results.”

Tolliver, 59, was in middle school when a job transfer prompted his father to move the family from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. By the time, he graduated from new Lincoln High School, Tolliver had learned to fend for himself.

He fought the urge to play football, instead focusing on a job so that he could buy a car and have money.

“I didn’t want to depend on my parents for anything,” he said, recalling that he worked as a runner for a Southside apartment complex, where his mother was the property manager.

He still has the same work ethic that led to ownership of a screen printing company, a property management company and Scion Management Solutions, an emergency management company that allows him to handle logistics for infrastructure restoration and individual property repair. 

His most recent stop has him in Fort Myers, where Hurricane Ian did major damage in September. Tolliver has also done similar work follow natural disasters around the country.

Two years ago, Tolliver added Victory Builders to his portfolio. The company, which he said he started to help Blacks begin to create generation wealth, is wrapping up construction of its first three homes.

Through all of his involvements, Tolliver makes time for his family. He is father to two girls and he and his wife Wayarne celebrate 27 years of marriage on Friday.

Tolliver became an ordained minister in 2005, 35 years after he joined Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, where Holmes is pastor. He was also influenced by an older brother, Juan Tolliver, who is an AME presiding elder in San Antonio, Texas.

Rev. De-Ves Toon, field director for NAN, said Tolliver is doing essential work in the Big Bend area. 

“We know that had it not been a Don Tolliver our presence would not be what it,” said Toon. “Don makes sure that our policies are implemented. It’s not only to protect our culture and our communities, but at the same time make sure that people are not being displaced out of their homes unjustly.”

Tolliver had another testimony to explain why he isn’t letting up in his fight for others. The night he was stopped by police for driving a vehicle that matched the description of one that was stolen still weighs on his mind. 

He said the matter was resolved after he told the officer if they took the car that he’d recently purchased they would have to make the payments. 

While he might not go into details publically about why he stands up for others, his message is succinct.

 “You do not have to be marginalized,” he said. “You do not have to take a back seat to the person that’s in High Grove or Golden Eagle. I am a citizen of this community so my voice has to be heard just like yours.

“Nobody should be left behind. God said there will be poor amongst us but that doesn’t mean you discard the poor.  You help them the best you can and you do all you can to help them out.”

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