Honoring achievements

An awards gala on Feb. 23 saw the induction of nine local residents who have devoted themselves to excellence and to helping others.

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Posted February 25, 2024 | By Andy Fillmore, andy@ocalagazette.com

Nine people, including a local high school coach whose past student players include a current Super Bowl champion team member, were inducted into the Howard Academy Community Center Black History Museum Archives on Feb. 23.

The Black History Museum is located at the community center, at 306 NW 7th Ave. The inductees’ award information will be entered into the archives at the museum and their portraits will be displayed there.

The 2024 awards gala was held at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place, at 1821 NW 21st St. About 250 guests attended the second annual gala, which honored the inductees as leaders who made a difference in the community, including Vanguard High School football coach Edwin Farmer, who was honored as a Beacon of Light inductee.

Farmer, an Ocala native, who holds a master’s degree in education and has more than 20 years of service with Marion County Public Schools, has mentored hundreds of players with “post high school educational and athletic endeavors” with programs like “Academic Huddle,” according to a program biography.

The biography states that 21 of his VHS players signed this year to pursue football beyond high school and he has been recognized as the Florida High School Athletic Association District 5A Head Football Coach of the Year and 2023 Marion County Area Football Coach of the Year. His VHS Knights team has won district and regional titles over the last eight years.

Farmer said he seeks to give “direction” to student players and “focus on academics” and requirements with the tools to succeed. He said he was “excited” about the award.

Kansas City Chiefs team member and 2017 VHS graduate Tyree Gillespie attended the gala and saw his former coach honored. Gillespie, who wears number 42, plays in the safety position.

Farmer’s wife, Tabitha Farmer, said her husband “loves” mentoring youth. The couple have three children, Josiah Farmer, Ty’Aleah Farmer and Tyevanshay Farmer, the biography states. Family member Zy Duffy and Farmer’s sister, Cinzhasha Farmer, both called Edwin Farmer. a good example.

“My father taught me what it takes to be a man and taught me hard work, discipline and respect will take you a long way in life,” said Josiah Farmer, 16, in a text message after the event. “It is amazing to have someone like him be recognized for his dedication and respect for our community. I am truly blessed to have him as my father and I absolutely love playing football for him.”

State Representative Yvonne Hinson, whose district includes northwest Marion County, served as mistress of ceremonies for the gala.

Diane Gullet, Superintendent of Marion County Schools, sat with several MCPS administration and board members and spoke at the gala. She pointed out that at least four of the inductees had ties to MCPS.

Immerse Church/Gap Productions members Abagail Rose-McCoy, Madison Nichols, Kimberly Pompey-Jenkins, Natasha Ortiz and Mary Hollingsworth shared a table at the gala. Pompey-Jenkins led three members in a presentation about what is described on the Library Of Congress website as the destruction in 1921 of a 35 block Greenwood district  in Tulsa, a wealthy Black community in Oklahoma known as “Black Wall Street.”

Asia West with Gap Productions provided a praise dance to the song “For Every Mountain” and a group of middle school girls with the Dare 2 B Great mentoring program were introduced as part of the program.

Thelma Edwards, a relative of Emmett Till, who died at age 14 in a racially motivated murder in Money, Mississippi, in August 1955. His mother bravely insisted on an open coffin viewing service for her son, who had been beaten and horribly disfigured. In the summer of 2023, the White House announced plans to create the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, with three locations in Illinois and Mississippi dedicated to their memory.

Barbara Gordon-Cobb and daughter Kimberly Govan also were among the guests who saw nine people inducted from a group of more than 20 nominees.

Davida Randolph and Theresa Brooks handled the induction announcements.

In addition to Farmer, the inductees, with biographical information from the program, are:

* Judge LeAnn Mackey-Barnes: A Marion County native, she holds a doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and has more than 21 years of courtroom experience, including felony, misdemeanor and juvenile cases. She is licensed for state and federal court. Mackey-Barnes said she is the only female Black judge in the State of Florida Fifth Judicial Circuit. She said the induction is “heartwarming” and that considering previous inductees, she’s “humbled.”

* Rev. Eric Cummings: A Marion County native and former law enforcement and correctional officer, he was with the Florida Department of Corrections for 25 years. Cummings is pastor of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church and has served on the Marion County School Board since 2018, with two years as chairman. He believes child education is a “team effort” involving the school and the student’s community.

* Scott Hackmyer: Also hailed as an “Unsung Hero,” he came to the Marion County area in 1975 and served for 33 years with MCPS and was involved in upgrading Howard Middle School to an “A” school. After his time with MCPS, Hackmyer worked with Devereux Kids and served as manager of the Ocala Family Resource Center and assisted many families, mostly in West Ocala. He has been associated with various local organizations, including the Marion County Children’s Alliance to help residents in need with their rent, utilities and transportation. He has also been active with the annual Community With A Heart outreach. He called the induction a “privilege,” for which he’s “very grateful.”

* Lena. Hopkins: Hopkins is the senior manager of pro bono services with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and is in her 25th year with the legal aid organization. She is a board member of Habitat for Humanity of Marion County, the Central Florida Community Action Agency and the Greater Ocala Community Development Corporation. She serves on the Marion County Continuum of Care board, the Marion County Children’s Alliance Family Violence Prevention Workshop and works with Community With A Heart. She has been involved with the Back 2 School Bash, a joint effort of the Marion County Children’s Alliance and the city of Ocala, which provides backpacks and school supplies to youth. She is a graduate of Focus on Leadership and Leadership Ocala/Marion. She is an ordained minister and elder elect of the Pressing Place Church.

* Winsome Jacobs: The native of Jamaica attended the College of Central Florida (then Central Florida Community College) in 1991 and by 1992, as part of her associate degree in computer science, was an intern for the city of Ocala IT department for a year and then was hired and served as a system analyst and implementation manager from 1993 until 2012, when she became the  IT director and certified chief information officer. Around 2006, Jacobs was involved in converting city computerization and as IT director helped merge information technology and operational technology, and cyber and physical security. She holds a business administration degree magna cum laude from Saint Leo University and an MBA from Webster University. She earned a doctorate in Christian counseling in 2023. She retired from the city this year. Jacobs has been in ministries in the Church of God and has served as president of the Women’s Aglow Ministry in Ocala. She said the induction honor was “great” and gives credit to God.

* Dennis McFatten: McFatten was hailed for his “unwavering commitment to his family, his community and service and safety.” He graduated from VHS in 1985. He served in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 with the 351st MP Army Reserve Unit. In 1991, he began work as a correctional officer in Lake County and then Marion County. He was a correctional officer, patrol officer, riot squad commander and lieutenant district commander with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He retired as a patrol captain in 2015. He completed Saint Leo University Officer Command School and is the first chief of police for the Marion County School Board Police Department. He has volunteered for more than 10 years to coach Pop Warner football and is past president of the Rotary Club of Belleview. He also has served as president of Governor’s West. He is a deacon and trustee at Progressive Union Baptist Church. He said the honor was “a great surprise” and one he “didn’t look for.”

* Adiahnae Vereen Piner: An Ocala native, she studied psychology and juvenile justice at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University after graduating from Belleview High School in 1998. While attending college she worked as a juvenile residential counselor at Greenville Hills Academy. She worked as a juvenile probation officer at Eckerd Youth Alternatives for six years and later became a family engagement specialist at The Centers. Piner began serving as an educator in 2015 and soon applied to become coordinator at the VHS Future Educators Academy and is in her second tenure. She initiated senior college tours to FAMU and Florida State University, after school and placement programs, an annual Washington, D.C., trip and community service activities. Piner is a member of Delta Sigma Thera Sorority and chairperson of Delta Academy, a mentoring and teaching resource for middle school girls. She was hailed as a Beacon of Light for “nurturing young minds.”

* Katrina Colston Thomas: Thomas, a member of New St. John Baptist Church, founded the KDC and The Sunshine Sliders dance group with her mother in 2015. Thomas’ sister, Daphne, was part of the group, adding the “D” to form the name. The group gave classes for the city of Ocala and soon became the “only such (organized dance group) in Ocala” and performed in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, the Ocala Christmas parade and other events. Thomas organized Pray Out Loud and a “give back” cancer awareness group and has given baton lessons to youth and provided prom attire to needy youth. She operated Special Blessings Hair and Nail Salon for 20 years, provided cosmetic services for Cunningham Funeral Home and operated Fashion by Dynasty for modeling and fashion and talent.

Ocala City Councilman Ire Bethea and City Manager Pete Lee attended the gala.

“It’s all our history,” Lee said about the historic accomplishments of numerous Black citizens in the area.

The Black History Museum and Archives of Marion County was founded in 2004. It includes vintage photographs, research articles, artifacts and personal items from prominent residents. For more information, call (352) 671-4175.

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