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Cherrietta Prince [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted March 6, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee, Ocala Gazette | Photography by Bruce Ackerman

Cherrietta Prince’s journey led her all the way home

Cherrietta Prince [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Cherrietta Prince walked onto the University of Florida’s campus in 1971 on solid academic footing.

But at 16, her life skills totaled little more than knowing how to drive. And that was questionable. She wrecked a car before moving to Gainesville.

But Prince found she had to grow up quickly as she faced outright prejudice because of her race. Prince is Black.

“I just remember the challenges of it because there was a lot of prejudice still, of course,” Prince said. “There was a lot of that.”

While UF integrated in 1958, Prince was just one of 343 Black students in 1971.

Anti-war protests were also rampant across college campuses as students across the country protested the Vietnam war and the 1970 Kent State shooting, where four Kent State students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard.

On May 9, 1972, in response to news that the United State, under President Richard Nixon at the time, bombed North Vietnam, anti-war demonstrations ripped through the University of Florida’s campus.

Prince was curious and walked toward the protest near Tigert Hall, the university’s administration building.

She saw fire engines using water hoses to disperse the crowd. Prince got no closer.

For Prince demonstrations were something she saw on television not in person. 

“You saw it all over the country in the big cities, and I was afraid there would be an all-out riot, which it wasn’t. It ended peacefully,” Prince said. “Having grown up in Ocala, I wasn’t privy to a lot of what these guys who had come from down south and the bigger cities knew. So, I was in the learning process.”

Because of her age and naivete, Prince got her share of teasing.

“They always said I was from Slow-Cala,” Prince laughed.

Willie Jackson, who was one of Florida’s first Black football players, was among those who poked fun at Prince. But he was also one of the ones who encouraged Prince to join the Gators’ inaugural track team in 1973.

According to the UF’s athletic association, not only was Prince one of the first Black athletes to compete on the women’s track and field team, but she was also a part of the first wave of female athletes on campus.

Those distinctions made it even tougher.

Cherrietta Prince, the Director of Entrepreneurship Services at the Ocala Metro/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership, does the Gator Chomp as she poses for a photo. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

“There was nowhere to go with your feelings, your attitudes. There was no one to turn to. We didn’t have any mentors,” Prince said. “There was so few of us. We had our coaches, but we didn’t have any women ahead of us to talk about stuff like that. It was all about the boy’s room. They barely had the women’s gyms and barely had the women’s anything. So, it was both (being a woman and being Black).

There were no scholarships for the women on the track team, so Prince hung up her running shoes after just one season.

But it wasn’t long after that Prince learned of other scholarships.

While she had an academic scholarship, which paid for her tuition, there was a whole other world of scholarships and grants that Prince never knew about.

“They had guidance counselors who guided them and made sure they had all the best scholarships,” Prince said. “So, there was all kinds of resources out there that Ocala didn’t tell me about. That’s the point I’m trying to make about coming from a small town. I had to figure that piece out.”

That realization inspired her to seek the opportunities in life.

After graduation, she lived in Miami. She joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served part of her stint in Puerto Rico, where she worked towards her master’s degree in business administration.

After leaving the Marine Corps, Prince started a daycare center, followed by a transportation business that still transports veterans to and from the VA.

But now she’s back in “Slow-Cala”, where she works with the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership as the director of the IMPACT Initiative.

The initiative hopes to bring positive economic growth in the communities of West Ocala, Marion Oaks, and Silver Springs Shores through entrepreneurship, according to the CEP website.

Prince’s entrepreneurial experience is firsthand.

“My family was full of entrepreneurs,” Prince said. “So that instilled that in me.”

In her role, Prince visits the IMPACT communities monthly trying to serve as a mentor and a resource.

Prince said she enjoys helping eager entrepreneurs during a time of economic instability.

“That background brings me full circle to today,” Prince said. “And why I love what I do because it gives me the opportunity to tell people there’s resources out there… There’s resources out there for everybody.”

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