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In Context by Doris Weatherford 9/13/19


Except for jokes about presidential Sharpies, things are relatively quiet in the political world, so I’m continuing the mental break from contemporary news that I began last week. I quoted then from “Olivia’s African Diary,” the day-to-day journal of a six-month trip through southern and eastern Africa in 1932. The writer was Oliva Stokes (later Hatch), and the photographs that accompany the published diary were by Mary Marvin Breckinridge (later Patterson).
And yes, women’s history is much harder to do than standard history because it was (and is) routine for women to change their surnames at least once in their lifetimes — with remarriages, even several times. Can you imagine tracing Thomas Jefferson if his surname were “Franklin” or “Washington” or “Hamilton” at different points in his life? And no one called him “Tom” or “Tommy,” unlike Mary Marvin Breckinridge, a woman called “Marvin.”
Olivia and Marvin were young college graduates who traveled with Olivia’s parents; they were checking on progressive projects in Africa, some of which were funded by the Phelps-Stokes family. They began their trek after landing at South Africa’s Cape Town in August, the weather equivalent of February in the Southern Hemisphere; when we left them last week, it was October, the equivalent of April. They were in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and we will pick them up again at the southern edge of what then was the Belgian Congo and now is Zaire.
Belgians (at least most of them) speak French, and the broad area was called “French Equatorial Africa.” Globalism is further reflected in that their destination here was the new village of Elisabethville. As its English name denotes, it was a company town built by Britons who mined its copper, which “is supposed to be the richest ore in the world. It was started only five years ago and seems amazingly well run,” Olivia wrote:
“We visited the attractive village where the Natives are given little houses with one room and a kitchen, their food, and the men their working clothes, besides from ten to twenty-five francs a day. It is all very clean and trees have been planted, which adds a lot. The Natives are a cheery group… The women are stunning. Many tribes have very becoming tattoo marks, made by rubbing juice from the rubber tree into scratches made on their faces… Their dress is…gaily printed cotton worn off the shoulders… They twist a bandana of the same color about their foreheads and it hangs down the back of their heads.
“We visited the baby welfare center where every day the babies are brought in and bathed…. On Sundays, they all bring their tables and chairs outside, spread their best tablecloth, and sit about in their best… Many of the men, it seems, wear dinner jackets. We asked one woman to open up her trunk. She said she was very poor, but it contained a fine hat, several silk dresses, and in a notebook, four or five hundred franc notes… We went down into the mine and noticed several Natives in positions of responsibility.”


This community was strongly influenced by a Belgian Catholic physician who had been there for twenty-five years. He also had overseen the creation of other such communities, and at Pandar, “they have a Camp d’Acclimatation just outside the town where all recruited labor, wives, and children, have to stay for one month, undergoing physical examination [and] vaccination…before they can go to one of the mines.”
When they took the railroad further north, she commented, “the Belgian Congo trains are quite grand and even have showers.” The railroad tracks ended at Bukama, however, where she said “the shopkeepers were mostly Greek.” From there, they took a tri-level boat that featured “good food” supervised by the captain’s wife. This family had their home on the upper deck, and because the captain needed his sleep, the boat docked at sunset. Then, she said, the 162 “Native passengers who crowded the lower deck got off and lit their little fires all along the bank.”
The Lualaba River, however, promoted mosquitoes, and brief trips ashore led them to conclude that “half of the Natives have sleeping sickness.” The river connects to Lake Tanganyika, a huge north-south waterway that looks on the map more like a river than a lake. The town where they stayed waiting for the next boat was Albertville, even though “of the 250 Europeans here now, only two are English.” Again it was a global mix, with many from Cypress, “a few Mohammedans, and the rest Belgians… The place seems very active and bustling with even white-robed priests dashing about on motorcycles… They say that about five Natives a month are eaten by crocs, so we resisted the temptation to swim in the lake.”
Kigoma, one of the next towns, is in modern Tanzania, and at its hospital, she reported “distressing cases of leprosy, sleeping sickness, and awful yaws” — a serious tropical skin infection that can penetrate to the bones. Yet she described the town as “quaint, with its thatched roofs and trees planted by the Germans.” They also witnessed a trial in Kigoma, in which a Muslim woman accused two Christian Natives of having stolen her cassava. “A group of older ones seemed to serve as a sort of jury. Witnesses were called in. The men were proved guilty and marched off to the lock-up.”
As they approached Dar-es-Salaam, on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya, she said “we saw several giraffes from the train window.” While the parents took a plane to Mombasa, the young women stayed at the palatial “Government House.” Diplomats there were glad to squire them around “through groves of cocoa palms, bananas, breadfruit trees, and endless clove trees with their perfume pervading everything.” The minister of agriculture told them that they had experimented with raising silk worms, but it was not a success because “a fat and healthy silk worm was too much of a temptation for the Natives, who ate them.”
To the north of Dar-es-Salaam, in Zanzibar, they began to encounter more Muslim culture, and she wrote: “Mrs. Johnston took Mother, Marvin, and me to an Arab wedding, or one part of the three-day ceremonies, the one for women only. Mrs. Johnston runs a school for Arab women. Most of the teachers are twelve, thirteen, or fourteen years old – the ages at which they usually marry… We were shown into a room downstairs where were the young unmarried girls who were not permitted to see the performance, or those who, though married, were still in their “period of modesty,’ which lasts for a year or more after marriage… An Arab will always take a pure-blooded Arab for his first wife, while others were Natives or mixed who tried to plaster their kinky hair down to conform to Arab fashion.”
Nairobi is a big modern city today, but then, she said that its Kikuyu natives “wear skins.” They had seen skin-wearing elsewhere, though, and what they found “most amazing” here were the huge earrings. Women wore “loops of them, stuck all up and down the ear,” while “men have distended ears with different sorts of rings.” She added, without explanation of what we understand today is the tradition of genital mutilation: “The women seldom get very far in their studies because apparently the Kikuyu ceremonies for women are so horrible and the operation so cruel that they are dulled thereafter.”
North of there, they stayed at a hotel in the coffee-growing area of Kenya, and she reported: “although only twenty miles from the equator, it is about 7,000 feet up and quite cold at night… Some Native men came around selling monkey skins.” In Uganda, they found the best roads in all of Africa. “Under Native law,” she explained, “each petty chief has to maintain a road… They are fine and wide…and really park-like. Beyond them are forests of mahogany trees…, with their owners’ huts hidden among the banana trees.”
At Kampala, they toured “a very good maternity hospital where they train midwives. They have reduced the death rate…so that of every pregnancy, now only 7.6% of the babies die within the year…, while before it was 74%.” An earlier hospital in Zimbabwe had given them a glimpse of brutal traditions associated with childbirth: This “small hospital” featured “a special place for twins where the mother can bring them as soon as they are born to prevent them from being killed according to tribal custom.”
Also at Kampala, they observed “a parliament… efficiently run entirely by Natives. The only European we saw there was an electrician mending one of their telephones.” On the other hand, when they peered into a tomb for the latest king: “We could see a couple of his widows sitting on the floor and moaning. Some widow has to keep up this lament and vigil all the time… Now the leading widow is a young woman of eighteen who, according to their custom, was married to the corpse!”


Because of Marvin’s interest in photography, Olivia spent ink on movies that were being made in Africa. I won’t try to summarize this topic, but she remarked that one – a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film – “was banned in Uganda because of the fact that a Native carries a white girl.” It was a land of contrasts, as on the same day that she recorded this Hollywood presence, she also wrote: “We passed a herd of about forty elephants going in single file up a hill.” Later, in Sudan, she said that natives told them elephants sometimes “committed suicide by curling their trunks into their mouths and blowing their brains out.”
Uganda is home to pygmies, and she wrote of “the really saintly Apolo, a Native minster who works among them.” Although an African, Apolo was not a pygmy, and she said that because adults were not allowed to learn the language, he had some small boys go and live with them and learn it… Most of the Pygmies live in grass and leaf shelters on the ground, while some tribes still live in little leaf shelters in the trees. If a Pygmy is hungry, he will cut a chunk off the leg of a passing elephant, while if he really wishes to kill an elephant, he sneaks between his legs and spears him in the stomach…. They steal grain and fruit from the Forest people, but always leave a piece of meat hanging outside the village in payment.”
In contrast to pygmies, the people in Sudan were “very tall,” with some estimated at seven feet. They were “practically naked, and “all carry at least one spear and many also a bow and arrows.” Modern technology was being introduced, however, as they saw “a large Raleigh bicycle advertisement of a Native thumbing his nose at a pursuing lion.” The most surprising thing about Sudan, though, was that “there is no color bar.” Natives who could afford it sat with them (and Australians) on the train to the White Nile branch of the huge Nile River.


On the boat north, they met a Miss Wolf “who has charge of all the midwifery work in the Southern Sudan.” Again, they learned interesting things: “This lady said that the Shilluks have an old custom which makes it necessary for their king to be speared – he cannot die in his bed. The present one has managed to live fifteen years, but they tried to kill him a couple of months ago.” Stokes described the Shilluks as “very tall,” but statistics were hard to come by because they refused to be measured – for valid reasons, from their point of view, as the only time they were measured was when their graves were dug. “They have to give a cow to the gravedigger and he cannot return to his home until he has passed through a purification ceremony… The Presbyterians have not tried to clothe the Shilluks, so Dr. McLenahan said it was a wonderful sight to see the stark naked choirboys march up to their place in the church on Sundays!”
Khartoum, a city on the Nile about midway between modern Eritrea and Chad, was the only place where they spoke directly about slavery. They asked the Headman if “there were any slaves in the town,” and he replied, “No, but there were several Negro women, unveiled, walking about [who] were practically, though not technically, slaves. He knew one man who had gained his freedom who was still paying ten piasters a month to his former owner. Theoretically, everyone can get his freedom through applying to an official, but inherited slaves are married off to other slaves and thus a sort of domestic slave class has arisen. In Abyssinia there is supposed to be still actual slave raiding going on.”
Abyssinia was another terms for Ethiopia — and very soon, the practice of raiding enemy villages for war captives to sell as slaves would be abandoned, as in 1935, all natives faced bombs from Italian airplanes during the first incidents of World War II. Just as an aside from the diary and for your information, historically most slaves were captured by enemy tribes and brought to the western coast of Africa. The biggest slave markets were in ports controlled by Portugal, especially Ghana and Senegal, which were closest to the Western Hemisphere. The east coast had less slave trading, but the unfortunate point is that virtually all Africans initially were sold by other Africans. The question of how much slavery still goes on, both there and on other continents, is worthy of more attention.
The last places that the diary details were in Sudan and some of the lower regions of Egypt. Stokes had seen Cairo and other aspects of the Nile Valley, including Luxor and Karnak, earlier in her life and understandably found it less noteworthy. Her December summary of two schools at Khartoum was the last to focus on women and girls. With a big Muslim population, she said, “the teaching has to be largely in English as there are few books in modern Arabic… Miss Grove gets all shades and colors, and mixtures of French, Egyptian, Greek, English, Arab, and Negro, among others. The girls receive a certificate…, but there seems to be little for them to do with their education, and they aren’t often wanted as wives.”


David Straz for Mayor of Tampa

Our endorsement for
Mayor of Tampa

The race to replace retiring Bob Buckhorn for mayor drew seven candidates. We have known six for a long time and been able to watch how they operate, govern and relate to our city. The seventh, Topher Morrison, is new to our political circle, but we had a chance to get to know him better when we both were traveling together in Cuba.
All of the candidates are likeable, love this city and want to do a good job.
We are looking for more than that. This city just had three of its largest tax increases in its history and yet, it’s still broke. We had two huge property tax fees assessed for storm water maintenance and storm water infrastructure. La Gaceta’s headquarters pays $2,000 in storm water taxes a year. That’s over 20 percent of our property taxes and yet, residents of South Tampa are still complaining about flooding. Why haven’t we fixed it and why haven’t we told the public when it can expect relief?
Ciy Council and the mayor raised the city’s property tax millage from $5.7326 to $6.3326 mills in 2017. That was the first millage increase in 29 years. In 2019, we passed a penny sales tax for transportation and a half penny for schools. With all this additional revenue and property values going up, the city still has no way to repay a loan that is coming due. We have not been setting aside money. Instead we’ve been paying for outrageously expensive parks and committing funds for infrastructure improvements for Jeff Vinik’s Downtown vision.
The next mayor needs to take hold of the budget. The next mayor needs to clean house and put us on a better financial footing.
We are also concerned by the concentration of power in the hands of the few and the hijacking of the City’s long-term plans.
Developer Jeff Vinik is a great guy and is doing great things for our city, but we don’t have to, and shouldn’t, rearrange our priorities to fit his vision. Yet, that is exactly what we are doing. Vinik is building up South Downtown and Channelside not because it is the best place for that development, but because he owns the land and he’ll make money from it.
We have no problem with him doing the development, but why are we going to pay for the infrastructure improvements needed by his development?
When some small businessman opens a restaurant, brewery or other business, the City is quick to charge that business for the increased size of the water connection or sewer connection. Businesses pay for changes to roads adjacent to their development and also have to pay to upgrade parking.
We are going to pay Vinik back for all of this. In fact, we gave him a cut of public parking revenues south of Kennedy.
There are also plans to spread the development along our deepwater Ybor Channel along Channelside Drive. If this happens, taxpayers will pay dearly to develop deepwater berths elsewhere in the bay, which will also take a toll on the environment.
All of this taxpayer cost will allow developers such as Vinik to put condos and offices on what is a working port. This isn’t our community’s vision. It’s not a wise use of our dollars but at the moment, this is our track.
We don’t blame Vinik for being on this track. We blame our public officials. To change direction, we need an outsider.
We are concerned that power is concentrating in Tampa. Vinik endorsed Jane Castor. Vinik holds a mortgage on the Tampa Bay Times. The Times endorsed Jane Castor. The Times only writes great things about Vinik and his developments. Castor’s partner lobbies for Vinik. The Times former top political writer now works for a firm hired by Vinik to run the transportation tax. That writer is now being paid by the Castor campaign. The Tampa Port Authority’s lobbyist is the company for which Jane Castor’s partner works and it goes on and on. Who is left to watch out for the taxpayer? Who is left to be our lobbyist?
We believe David Straz is the right person at the right time to watch out for our interests. He is unafraid to stand toe-to-toe with Vinik, the police union and the Rays to craft the best deal for the taxpayers and this city.
He’ll work with the County and State to create a regional transportation plan. Tampa can’t have a different plan than the County if both are to succeed. He doesn’t have a client who is pushing a ferry. He doesn’t have an ego that insists his way or no way.
Straz has the connections to market this city to Fortune 500 companies. He’s on the board of The Met and has relationships around the country. We let Vinik become our chief salesman, but he is selling his property in Tampa. Straz will promote all of Tampa.
We need to move all of our focus from Downtown and spread the City’s investments to the neighborhoods. David Straz knows this city has been ignoring our neediest neighborhoods and he sincerely believes it’s unfair and needs to be fixed.
Straz is rich. We don’t normally like rich. But unlike a lot of rich people, Straz is also a boy scout. He wants to be fair and play by the rules. He won’t choose the easiest political pathway. He won’t flip-flop because of polls and pressure, but he will listen and carefully evaluate plans and issues. He will also change his mind if he finds facts that compel him to do so.
What we like most about Straz is he is truly independent and is running without desire for personal gain.
He has no active businesses. For all of his wealth, he owns relatively little property in the city. He won’t be seeking a higher office and he already has a building named after him.
La Gaceta strongly endorses David Straz for mayor of Tampa.

Silhouettes Profiles Bradley Romp

Bradley Romp

This article originally appeared in the March 16, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

Bradley Romp had been healthy his entire life – not just healthy, but athletic, even working as a fitness model at one point – when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 13 years ago.
He and his wife, Michelle, were celebrating her 40th birthday in Hawaii with friends. As he prepared for a day on the golf course, he lost his balance and busted his toe. So he spent a spa day with his wife and her friend, instead.
“Having MS, that’s the worst thing you could do for it,” he said. “But I didn’t know I had it at the time. Ice baths, mud baths, salt baths – I was just putting my body in shock.”
When he returned home, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, it crept upward, into his lower back, and he experienced pins and needles in his fingers. At first, his chiropractor thought he had a herniated disc. But when it seemed like something more was going on, Romp was sent for an open MRI.
Because it was open, rather than closed, though, the MRI results were “very sketchy, they couldn’t really tell anything,” he said.
A week after that, his symptoms not getting any better, he made an appointment with Florida Orthopaedic, and he was sent for a closed MRI. His MRI was scheduled for a Friday, and he was sent home with the film to bring to his appointment the following Monday. “But there was no way I was going to wait an entire weekend,” he said.
So Romp called over his neighbor, a doctor, to take a look at the film. They hung the film on his kitchen window so his friend could review them.
His friend knew what he was looking at right away – not only because of his professional experience, but because his sister also has MS ¬– but at first hesitated to make a diagnosis in such an informal setting. Eventually, the words came out – Romp had MS.
Romp’s first reaction was, “MS? What’s MS?”
His friend explained is was a disabling disease to the central nervous system caused by damage to the myelin coating around nerve fibers, disrupting the transmission of signals between the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the body.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be effin’ kidding me,’” Romp said. “He left, and I cried like a baby.”
Since then – despite the fatigue, vertigo, pins and needles, and pain – he’s turned his attitude around. “I’m a very positive person,” he said.
He serves as a mentor to others with MS and rides in the two-day 150-mile Bike MS: The Citrus Tour each year, raising thousands of dollars and awareness for the disease. “There is no cure for MS at this point,” he said. “But if I can help one person with the disease, one person less fortunate than me, motivate one person, then I’ve done my job.”
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Romp moved to Tampa in 1980 after high school to attend the University of South Florida.
His entire life, his family had traveled to Florida on vacations to visit friends. It was on one of these trips that he visited USF while in town to see a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game and fell in love with the university. “I decided I loved the Florida weather, the beaches and the water, and it spoke to me,” he said. “So I decided to come down here, not knowing anyone. I drove my dad’s van down here, filled with my things, and I’ve been here ever since.”
He studied business management, following in his family’s footsteps. Back home, his family owned a variety of businesses – Danny Boy Farm Markets, Dairy Queen franchises, A&P franchises and tractor companies, to name a few.
After graduating from USF in 1984, he took a job as a trainer for Frank Calta’s health clubs. He was also hired as a fitness model for the Nautilus home workout machine, which was based in DeLand.
Romp decided he wanted to take his life more seriously, though. “I thought, ‘This is fun, but I need to get in the real world,’” he said.
He took a job with Cellular One in 1987, which eventually became AT&T. He worked for the company for more than 18 years. In his most recent role, he worked as the company’s government account manager, handling accounts for various municipalities, including the City of Tampa, as well as the Secret Service, MacDill Air Force Base, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and USF’s athletic department.
He left AT&T in 2005, when it was bought out by Cingular. Romp decided it was time to do something different. So he took a job selling franchises of Mark Lucas’ Club Z Education, an in-home tutoring company, and Acti-Kare, an in-home medical care company. Romp went on to become the owner of the Acti-Kare franchises in the Tampa Bay area.
This career change came 13 years ago, just before he was diagnosed with MS. Both the job and the diagnosis were pivotal for Romp.
“Before that, I had a shield up in me that I was this person who could do no wrong,” he said. “But when I got the news that I was stricken with MS, I had to bring that shield down. Now I look at people and view people in a completely different way.”
He added, “What I do now for a living, I’m very grateful. It’s very gratifying and very rewarding to help people out. I feel like I’m giving back with the business I’m in right now.”
He’s as passionate about working with the MS community as he is about Acti-Kare. He knows firsthand how devastating the initial diagnosis of MS can be. He coached his two sons on a variety of sports teams – football, baseball, soccer – in the New Tampa area before he was diagnosed. He loved this role but was forced to step down when he continued to lose his balance on the field.
Initially weakened by the MS, at first he could barely hold a 1.5-lb. weight above his head, and the equilibrium issues affected his balance when he tried to ride a bike. “And I’d always been an avid bike rider,” he said. “I couldn’t zip up my pants. I couldn’t button my own shirt. I couldn’t function.”
The turning point came when he was unable to play in a charity golf tournament in which regularly participated because he couldn’t hold the club in his left hand. He vowed he would return the following year.
So he got to work, training to strengthen his body and mind. This is his 10th year riding in the Bike MS: The Citrus Tour, a benefit for the National MS Society. Many people are surprised he’s able to make the two-day 150-mile ride with his MS symptoms, but he’s worked hard to get to that point. “I’m probably in better shape than I’ve ever been,” he said. “I’ve kind of taken a negative and turned it into a positive.”
Romp has become known as a top fundraiser for the ride. Last year, he raised more than $17,000 he said.
He hopes his story inspires others living with the disease. “Life doesn’t have to stop with a diagnosis,” he said.
He added, “It’s not about Brad Romp. It’s about making a difference for people living with MS. When I’m training, I’m training for all those who suffer worse than me.”

Silhouettes Profiles Amy Haile

Amy Haile

This article originally appeared in the July 13, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

In hindsight, Amy Haile realizes how much of an influence her mother had on her as a child.
Born in Orlando, Haile spent her early years there. That’s where her father landed while serving in the U.S. Air Force.
But when her parents divorced in the 1970s, her mother, Jan Roberts, moved her daughters closer to Tampa, where she completed a masters’ degree in counseling at the University of South Florida. Roberts went on to become the executive director of The Centre for Women, an organization dedicated to helping women in the Tampa Bay area success personally and professionally. Now retired, her mother, 80, recently performed a sold-out one-woman show at Stageworks Theatre, where she highlighted a cross-country trip she took in her Prius visiting friends and mentors, and reflecting on her life.
After her mother earned her degree, Haile, the youngest of several girls, “was in the house the longest as she was going into that point of her career.” Looking back, Haile, the new director for Champions for Children, formerly the Child Abuse Council in Hillsborough 2001, as an adult realizes how much of an influence her mother was on her. “She’s still kicking it,” Haile said. She added, “I didn’t realize then how much her career would have an impact on me. As a child, I didn’t know it at the time.”
Haile went on to study anthropology at USF and was interested in engaging other cultures and backgrounds without inserting judgment based on her own experiences. After earning her degree, she took a job with Operation PAR. Her role focused on juveniles with mental health and substance abuse issues. This is when she realized she enjoyed working with teens. “I really liked the energy of them,” she said. “They’re invincible and energetic and passionate about life.” She worked with youth and their families, collecting data that would ultimately help them make more informed decisions.
She worked for Operation PAR on and off for years. During some of those off years, she worked for DUI Counterattack in Hillsborough County, also a non-profit organization.
In 1995, she headed back to USF to enter a masters’ program in anthropology. At the same time, she returned to Operation PAR, where she worked until 2001, ending her time with the organization as the outcomes director.
She joined the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, an entity operated by the county, in 2001. In this role, Haile shifted her focus from teenagers to younger children.
There were several projects she worked on during her time there that stand out for her. Working with area non-profit organizations and other Children’s Board staff, she helped to create a childcare system for families with special needs children.
She recalls reaching out to various organizations and asking them “to design a perfect program of support.” Initially, they all argued that there was no funding for such a “perfect” program. But she insisted that they contribute their designs, anyway, which she used as the foundation for the Network of Inclusive Childcare that was funded by the Children’s Board. Though the NIC only existed for four years, there are “remnants of it still in place,” she said.
Haile also helped implement a childcare support program for homeless families. Initially, the Children’s Board supported this local program. But eventually, the state took over.
While working for the Children’s Board, she got to know the team at Champions for Children. She became especially good friends with Brian McEwen when they both entered a graduate certificate program in nonprofit management at the University of Tampa in 2009.
When Paul D’Agostino, the founding executive director of the organization retired, McEwen stepped up to fill his shoes. McEwen then tapped Haile to replace him as the associate director. She joined Champions for Children – then the Child Abuse Council – in 2013.
In recent years, Champions for Children adopted its new name as the organization began to shift its focus on priorities. When it was founded, it focused on the support and reunification of children and families affected by child abuse. The organization expanded its operations though, eventually focusing more on family wellness and child abuse prevention.
Science shows the impact of the first six months on a child’s brain, Haile said. This shows the importance of supporting children and families early as a means of preventing child abuse and other issues. As a result, Champions for Children “provides high caliber, evidence-based, top-of-science programming.”
The name change came about because with the focus on family wellness and prevention, many families were turned away by the term “child abuse.” Haile said, “A lot of parents would say, ‘I’m not abusing my child.’”
Also, they made their programming available to parents from all walks of life – all races, ethnicities, ages and income brackets – not just high-risk families. “It’s not income-based. It’s not risk-based,” she said. “Because all parents need a little help sometimes.”
Champions for Children touches around 38,000 lives in Hillsborough County each year. The majority of this, around 24,000, are through its in-school programming and presentations, Haile said. The rest, both children and their caregivers, are affected by specific programming.
One such program is the Baby Bungalow, an early childhood resource center for new parents. “It’s a lovely oasis” for parents, Haile said, offering a variety of classes and workshops, as well as child development programs.
There’s also Layla’s House, in Sulphur Springs, similar to the Baby Bungalow program, it’s a community-based learning center for caregivers and children. “It really helps caregivers navigate through whatever they might need,” Haile said.
Additionally, there’s the ABC Program – A Breastfeeding and Childbirth Program that provides education and support to expecting and new parents, with topics ranging from pre-natal concerns to breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding is the second opportunity as a parent to feel successful. It builds attachment between the mother and child,” Haile said. “This is an opportunity for us to support that positive attachment.”
The organization’s annual fundraiser is just months away and it’s a great way to support Champions for Children, Haile added. The event, the Dream Keepers Ball, will take place Saturday, Sept. 29 at the George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
There are other initiatives as well, she added. The first week in August focuses on breastfeeding awareness, and September the group will host a diaper drive for Diaper Awareness Month. “There’s a real need in this community for diapers,” she said. “Diapers are incredibly expensive. We can’t support families for a year, but we can help them through an emergency.”
She also wants to stress that the programming offered by Champions for Children is truly geared towards parents and families from all backgrounds. “No matter who you are, everyone asks themselves at some point, ‘Are you a bad parent? What are you doing wrong?’ We’re here to support them.”

Silhouettes profiles Ron Christaldi

Ron Christaldi

This article originally appeared in the May 11, 2018 edition of La Gaceta
By: Tiffany Razzano

As a law student at Florida State University, Ronald Christaldi was “blessed” to be recruited as a clerk for Tampa’s de la Parte and Gilbert P.A. He was even more “fortunate” when the firm hired him a year later, in 1996, as a new attorney.
Lou de la Parte, along with his son, David de la Parte, who had taken over the firm by that point, were local icons, idealized both as attorneys and as community leaders. By the time Christaldi joined de la Parte and Gilbert, Lou had mostly stepped back from his role with the firm as he focused on health issues. Still, the company culture was steeped in Lou’s beliefs, which his son upheld.
“There was this tradition there, a sense of responsibility to the community,” Christaldi said. The firm stressed “community involvement, being politically engaged and helping to shore good government” through their work as well as in their personal lives.
He worked for the firm for 12 years with David serving as a mentor for him as he carved out his career. “[David] was the best mentor anybody could hope for,” Christaldi said.
Because of David’s encouragement, he became involved with numerous community and business organizations, serving in leadership roles at many of them. “It’s one thing that David also mentored me on,” he said. “If you’re going to do something, don’t do things just to build your resume; do things you believe in, and if you do them, do them full throttle.”
This reinforced what he learned as a young age: as an attorney, he could help people in need.
As a fifth-grader growing up in south New Jersey, Christaldi was selected for a special program for academically gifted students. During one lesson, their teachers secretly organized a lesson about the legal system for these students.
“In class, they pretended they had a fender bender outside and began to fake argue in front of us without us realizing it wasn’t real,” he said.
One teacher then pulled out a fake gun and shot the other. “They wouldn’t do this in a classroom today,” he said.
Christaldi was selected as the defense attorney in the ensuing mock trial. He was so excited about this role that his mother took him to meet with a local public defender in Camden, New Jersey, who advised that he claim “temporary insanity” for his client, who made a bad decision “in the heat of the moment.”
The mock judge and jurors ruled in his favor – the only ruling that sided with the defense in similar mock trials at other local schools. “I got that defense verdict and I knew that day that I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “I didn’t have any true conception of what being a lawyer was, but it became my passion. Really, I loved that feeling of helping someone who otherwise couldn’t help themselves.”
He went on to earn his undergraduate degree at New College of Florida in Sarasota, and then earned his masters and law degree from Florida State University.
He hit the ground running with de la Parte and Gilbert P.A. In 2007, he joined Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, where he serves as partner, management committee member, healthcare co-administrator and president/CEO of Shumaker Advisors Florida, LLC.
The entire time, Christaldi’s work with the community has been just important to him as his work as an attorney.
He’s served in leadership roles at a number of organizations including The Spring of Tampa Bay, where he served on the board of directors from 2009 to 2014 and was vice chair. For him, “protecting and providing support and a way out for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society” was important.
He’s also worked with the Lions Eye Institute, Tampa Theatre’s Facility Master Plan Task Force, a variety of local and national bas asssociations, Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts and Youth Environmental Services.
The role that prepared him for his current community passion – bringing the Tampa Bay Rays to Ybor City – was his work with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
In this capacity, serving as chair at one point, he focused on the economic impact of sports, particularly the Rays, on the Tampa Bay area. He toured other cities, checking out their transportation and stadiums, and how they used baseball to revitalize neighborhoods.
Last year, as the Rays began to explore their options for a new stadium, Christaldi and Chuck Sykes, also a former chamber chair, began discussing how they could keep the stadium in the Tampa Bay region. They created Tampa Bay Rays 2020, a non-profit organization that encourages community support of bringing the Rays to Ybor City.
Earlier this year, the Rays unveiled a new 14-acre site in Ybor City bound by Channelside Drive, 4th Avenue, 15th Street and Adamo Drive.
Bringing the stadium to Ybor City is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Christaldi said.
Relocating the baseball team to Ybor City will add to the area’s sense of community, he said. “What sports does for a community is bring people together. It gives kids role models, people a sense of place, gives them something to rally behind, and builds that sense of what it means to be Tampa Bay and what it means to be a community.”
It’s also a business opportunity for the region, he said. “It gives great exposure to the community,” he said. Often, when you poll visitors about the Tampa Bay area, the beaches and weathers stand out at the top of the list. “We’re in a very competitive global environment,” he said. “We’ve got to be in a place where people to need to think about us more than just a beach place if our children are going to have a future here and we’re going to bring jobs here.”
Sports franchise “are economic engines,” he said. They drive the local economy through hotel stays, restaurant visits and other tourism opportunities, and eventually trickle into “spin-off type of activity.”
Through their non-profit, he and Sykes created the Rays 100, a group of business leaders who support the team’s move to Ybor City. They held the launch for this group last month. Those involved spread the word about the new stadium to their own social, civic and business circles.
The new stadium will “be full circle” for “the buildout and redevelopment of downtown and Ybor City,” Christaldi said.
He considers many of the new spaces in and around downtown Tampa: from the Armature Works in Tampa Heights to Jeff Vinik’s investment in Channelside to the outer portions of Ybor City. “Now all of a sudden you’ve got this ring around this core of downtown that is walkable and has a lot of things going on,” he said.
While there “is always a naysayer here and there,” he’s confident that this is the right plan for Ybor City and the Rays. “People are skeptical, which is different from being negative,” he said. “People were skeptical about getting the Rays here in the first place or the [Tampa Bay] Lightning or building an aquarium or an airport, but the community really pulled together and made it happen. I see the fundamental pieces of this falling into line.”

Silhouettes Profiles Anthony Perez

Anthony Perez

This article originally appeared in the March. 23, 2018 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

As a first-generation American, Anthony Perez doesn’t take for granted how hard his family worked when they first moved to this country. In fact, he leans on their story and their early struggles as inspiration for his banking career and his work with Tampa’s Hispanic community.
His family were milk distributors in Cuba when Fidel Castro took control of the government. He was told by his parents that for a while, they went about their business, delivering milk. But one morning, in the mid-1960s, they were greeted by men with rifles outside their home. They were told they could either work on a government-run farm or leave the country. A plane sponsored by Catholic Charities was about to take off.
His family – his young parents, just teenagers at the time, and his maternal grandparents and uncle – chose to leave. Going back into their home with just enough time to pack a bag, they were rushed to the plane that was heading for Spain.
After two years living in Spanish homes sponsored by the Catholic Church, eventually they were placed permanently in the United States and immigrated to Chicago.
When they arrived, they didn’t have much money. But they were able to purchase a single car jack and used that to start a company fixing flat tires. For years, they focused on roadside assistance, but their business grew into an auto part distribution company, Garcia’s Auto Parts – named after his maternal grandfather – which at one point had 11 warehouses throughout the city of Chicago.
Perez especially recalls one childhood conversation with his uncle that shapes him to this day. When he was about 8 years old, his uncle took him for a drive and parked on the side of a street at one of Chicago’s busiest intersections. For a while, they watched people drive and walk by. Then his uncle said to him, “I want you to look around you. See all these beautiful people – he called them beautiful people. You know why I’m covered in oil and why I’m dressed like this? So you don’t have to be.”
Perez said, “That stuck with me. It’s always inspired me, always encouraged me while growing up. I had the freedom to be what I wanted to be. I’m grateful for that kind of upbringing.”
His parents lived modestly, sacrificing to send him and his sister to private school. When he was about 10 years old, they moved to Daytona Beach because he had severe asthma. His uncle ran the auto parts company day to day, while his father helped from afar and his mother went back to school to become a nurse.
From a young age, Perez dreamed of a career in the hotel industry. “I always wanted to own my own hotel,” he said. “I wanted to be the largest franchise owner of a Marriott hotel.” Growing up, many of his birthday parties had been held poolside at Marriott hotels, his parents renting space for him and his friends to play.
So he earned a full ride to the University of Central Florida, where he earned a degree in hotel management. His parents stressed the importance of education, he added. “Education was always super important. Education is something they can never take away from you.”
While attending UCF, he was awarded a coveted four-year internship at Marriott’s Orlando World Center. He hoped this would parlay into a permanent position after college, but after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, the hospitality industry took a hit, he said. “So it wasn’t moving at the pace I was hoping for.”
Instead, he said, “Bank of America found me.” The company held annual hiring events at the Marriott. So the recruiter asked Perez if he had ever considered a career in banking.
At first, he told them he wasn’t interested. But when Bank of America returned to the Marriott the following year, he had a different answer for them.
He was chosen as one of 15 for a selective training class, and was the only one of this class hired as a branch manager and given the keys to a bank – the other trainees were hired in different roles.
After several years with Bank of America, he returned to Chicago to work for the family business. “I thought, I have a degree. I’m a banker. I know what I’m doing,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to go from your feet in the sand to your feet in the snow. On top of that, I grossly underestimated what it takes to be a business owner.”
Still, he wanted to pay his dues and help his family. But work anxiety kept him up at night and distracted him from life. Eventually he had to tell his uncle that he didn’t think the family business was a good fit for him.
His uncle, understood, and told him, “Go back to Florida, kid. This was never meant for you.”
Perez took a job as Tampa branch manager of BMO Harris Bank. He had been looking for the right company to join. “I wanted to find an organization that would invest in me,” he said, and BMO Harris not only supported his earning an MBA, but funded his education at the University of South Florida.
After 11 years with BMO Harris, he left in October, as assistant vice president, to join the Bank of Tampa as vice president of commercial relationship management. “Everybody in Tampa knows, as a banker, that if you get an opportunity to be with the Bank of Tampa, you take it,” he said.
What he has come to appreciate most about banking is the community involvement. “Each bank touts this,” he said. “But I’ve been experiencing it now more than ever with the Bank of Tampa. I’ve got to give this bank tremendous credit, because they really put their money where their mouth is.”
Last year, the bank donated more than $700,000 to 200 local nonprofit organizations. So while other banks donate funds and services to charities, Bank of Tampa has more of an impact in the Tampa Bay area directly, Perez said.
While interviewing with Bank of Tampa, he was surprised by the accessibility of the company’s CEO, founder and other higher ranked employees. He was also surprised that much of the interview process focused on his passions, rather than his resume. “They were more interested in Anthony as a person than what Anthony can bring,” he said. “Instead, it was about what can we do for Anthony to make him the best he can be.”
When hired, he was given a budget to use to contribute to community organizations and events, and has been encouraged to give his time – even if it cuts into his work hours – to participate with these groups in a hands-on capacity.
Perez has always been interested in community work. “But now I get to do it at a much higher level,” he said.
Even before joining Bank of Tampa, he became a member of the city of Tampa’s Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board nearly three years ago. He’s currently in the midst of his second year as the group’s chair.
The group’s signature event is the Latinos Unidos luncheon, which drew nearly 550 people last year and since its inception has raised more than $1.4 million for college scholarships awarded to local Hispanic students to attend USF, the University of Tampa and Hillsborough Community College. This 20th annual event will take place May 8 at The Hilton hotel in downtown Tampa.
Through the help of the Vinik Foundation, the advisory board will launch a new event, Cafecito 813, April 11 at the HCC campus. The event will bring together leaders of various Hispanic serving organizations for networking and collaboration. “The problem in Tampa is there are so many organizations – so many of them – and none of them collaborate together. They’re very cards to the chest,” he said. “So we’ll all come together [at Cafecito 813] and take three to five minutes to share what each organization is doing, and then see how we can work together.”
He also sits on the board of USF’s Latino Foundation, and spends his time mentoring college students. After his grandmother, Olga Garcia, passed away in January, he and his cousins established a USF scholarship in her name.
“I can barely get my family out of the house in time for church,” Perez said, “and she took the family out of Cuba, to Spain and then Chicago. She took two trains and a bus to work every day for years. I guarantee you she was never late and never missed a day. So I said, you know what? We’re going to continue her legacy through this incredible, incredible program.”
Married for five years with three children of his own, supporting local youth has become one of his biggest passions. “Now that I have children myself, I’m kind of seeing the importance of this whole inspiration for kids,” he said. “People go on about this youngest generation – they’re entitled; they’re this; they’re that; they’re connected to their cell phones.”
But this couldn’t be further from the truth, he said. “Listen, I don’t know what young generation you’re looking at, but the generation I see every day that I work with through my mentorships are amazing people who are going to change this world in ways you’ve never dream up.”
While the scholarships for these young students are important, so, too, is the connection they have with older, successful individuals who can provide one-on-one insight and assistance. “I genuinely care about these young people,” Perez said. “It’s one thing to say they’re our future. But that’s bullshit. You can’t just say that. You need to take some kind of action. The scholarships are great. The information they need – they’re in the information age. They’ll find a way to get what they need. What they need is someone to tell them they’re amazing and give them that support.”

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