Celebrating diversity in Southwest Florida
Our nation’s strength is rooted in the many cultures that have made this country home. From Native Americans to myriad immigrants from around the world, the diverse makeup of our society is its virtue.
Celebrated poet and author Maya Angelou once observed : "We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color."
That thought is particularly true in Southwest Florida, where individuals of European, Hispanic, African, Asian and other backgrounds are found, often operating quietly, in the arts, education, charity, medicine and business.
But because this body of diversity is not often visible at the forefront, D’Latinos and Gulfshore Business magazines wish to celebrate these unsung heroes with our Face Awards.
Nominations in six different categories were reviewed by our judges, who included the following community leaders: Juan Diaz, Naples artist; Jadira Hoptry, vice president of Community Affairs at Fifth Third Bank; Felix Lluberes, co-founder of Position Logic; Yemisi Oloruntola-Coates, manager of Diversity & Language Services at Lee Memorial Health Systems; Carmen Rey-Gómez, director of the Hispanic Institute at Hodges University;
The panel chose companies and individuals who reflect and celebrate positive values and ethnic and racial diversity, and in turn serve as inspiration for others. Please read on as we proudly present our winners of the Face Awards 2014.
Arts & culture, Marcus Jansen
Having grown up in New York and Germany and traveled around the world for his career, Marcus Jansen infuses different cultural experiences in his paintings.
“Travel has been fundamental for my work and how I paint and what I paint,” says the Fort Myers resident. “I've always seen any place where I was as home, which has a huge impact on my work and what I paint stylistically.”
With vibrant colors and a graffiti-like style, his urban expressionism has brought him global renown. For example, he was chosen as one of 17 artists to paint special edition pieces for Warner Bros.’ 75th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz, and was one of two artists from the U.S. to showcase work during the 2010 World Cup. His work has attracted collectors from around the country, Russia, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia and Latin America.
Jansen describes his work as a collision of his background and ongoing life experiences. Born in Manhattan and raised in Germany by his German stepfather and West Indian mother, Jansen served as a U.S. soldier in the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s. After his return, he began painting urban landscapes. Discovered by Jerome Donson, former director of traveling exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, Jansen has showcased his work at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art in Russia, the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and the Smithsonian Institution.
Now 45, Jansen moved to the area in 2004 to be close to family and opened the UNITA Contemporary Art Space in March 2012. The largest art space in Southwest Florida, it houses Jansen's private collection and personal studio. He supports local charities by donating works for fundraising, including ACT for Arts, the Alliance for the Arts and the Southwest Florida Museum. “As painters, incorporating the community is part of what we do,” he says. —Carolyn Crist
EDUCATION, CARL BURNSIDE
Under Carl Burnside’s watch as principal, Dunbar High School has ascended from among the lowest-performers in the state to one with a stellar rating. It’s an accomplishment rooted in his upbringing in the neighborhood and social awareness of the segregation that gripped Southwest Florida education decades ago.
During the 1960s, Burnside witnessed the growth of integration in local schools and, in particular, Dunbar High, where his mother taught. Burnside, 51, eventually attended Florida State University, knowing he would return home to make a difference for students.
“I remember reading an article in the late '80s that said Lee County was one of the most segregated communities in the U.S.,” he says. “When the opportunity to go to Dunbar came about, I knew having a [leadership position in a] high school in the neighborhood was the best way to help integrate the county even more.”
As Dunbar’s principal, Burnside established the Academy for Technology Excellence, which offers students the chance to train in technology skills that lead to industry-recognized certifications while in high school.
“We're investing in learning and skills that help students have lifelong college and career skills,” he says.
The program teaches students PC hardware support skills, PC networking and systems administration; students also are placed in internships. Another track created in 2009, called the Academy for Digital Excellence, offers digital-arts skills.
In 2004, Dunbar had one of the highest percentages of low-performing and low-socioeconomic students in the district. In 2010 and 2011, it received an “A” state ranking. Since the IT programs were created, about 85 percent of students who have participated have moved on to college or a career after graduation.
“We're on a mission to really change Lee County for the better,” Burnside says. “To do that, education must become innovative for our students.”
MEDICAL, DIANE SPEARS
Diane Spears has a long—and impressive— title of director of medical infectious disease and vascular access nursing for Lee Memorial Health System. In addition, she’s become a pioneer for female and minority nurses in Southwest Florida.
It’s a far cry from the dubious distinction she held in her younger years: high school dropout.
Spears, who married young and moved from Ocala to Fort Myers in the late 1960s, joined Lee Memorial in the early ’70s as a patient care technician. In 1974, she became the second African-American to graduate from then-Edison Community College with a nursing degree.
She also was the first African-American who graduated from Edison to become a registered nurse and one of the first four African-American nurses at Lee Memorial Health System. “I started there as a nurse’s aide, someone who was just looking for a job. Being here, I have been able to obtain my degrees,” she says.
She later earned her master’s from Barry University, and moved into management positions, such as head nurse and director of oncology, hematology and endoscopy.
About 20 years ago, Spears helped create the Annual Health Forum to educate males in the Dunbar community about prostate cancer. The forum, awareness events, cancer conferences and other efforts also pull in organizations such as Family Health Centers, the Lee County Health Department and the Harry Chapin Food Bank.
“It’s not just me. These people believe in what we’re doing and they’re on board,” says Spears, who also is involved in the Dunbar 21st Century Collaboration, The Dunbar Clinic and Mt. Hermon Ministries’ health care ministry.
“When I do leave Lee Memorial, I’m absolutely sure I’ll be doing something in the community to promote health and wellness,” she says. “That’s where I want to be, in that front end before you get sick.” —Lori Johnston
NONPROFIT, MILLIE CLASS
Millie Class gives straight advice: “You need to get certified. It’s free and what you get is crazy good.” Words such as these are helping businesses owned by women, veterans, African-Americans or Hispanic Americans land government contracts of all sizes. Class coordinates a program at the Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), where companies earn minority-business enterprise and disadvantaged business enterprise) certifications from the federal government.
These credentials are valuable. With them, businesses can apply for local, state or federal government projects seeking minority-owned vendors and suppliers. By yearend 2013, 391 minority-owned certified businesses operated in Lee and Collier counties.
Class, a certified business analyst, also connects companies with minority-owned sub-contractors. She has helped more than 115 clients go after government contracts. “It’s a passion of mine. I assist and educate them in English and in Spanish,” says Class, 58.
Class grew up in Manhattan and moved to Florida about 18 years ago. Initially, she found jobs through staffing agency Kelly Services. In 2003, she visited the Small Business Development Center at FGCU to seek advice on starting a business to assist senior citizens. A position happened to be open: FGCU quickly hired her to help with the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.
Her success stories now dot Southwest Florida’s economic landscape. In 2013, one female business owner received a $180,000 government contract. But just a few years earlier, she had been unaware of how to use email. “I told her, ‘look, you want to go to the next level. Government contracting is the right way to go,’” Class remembers. “So then I said, ‘But I want you to learn technology.’” Class also cautions her clients to dress professionally. “I’m giving them everything they need to prepare them to be sucessful,” she says. —Lori Johnston
SMALL BUSINESS, CHRIS-TEL CONSTRUCTION
Chris-Tel Construction is in the building business, but it goes beyond bricks and mortar. The company, which was founded in 1989 and has 15 employees, works with minority- and women-owned business enterprises, disadvantaged business enterprises and local residents to ensure everyone has opportunities to become involved.
For example, in preparation to restore and reconstruct the former Sabal Palm Apartments (an affordable-housing complex) in the diverse Dunbar community, Chris-Tel held a job fair last February. The general contractor, along with the Lee County NAACP chapter, fed about 1,000 people, all the while collecting 564 job applications from residents.
“I’m a firm believer in giving everybody a chance. A lot of people that I met at our job fair that particular day didn’t necessarily know how to go after a job,” says Howard L. Wheeler Jr., founder and president. “They may just walk into a place and say, ‘Hey, I need a job,’ but does that applicant really get looked at? Are they talking to the person who can hire them?”
After the job fair, Chris-Tel hired 118 minorities—more than doubling its goal of awarding 10 percent of jobs to Disadvantaged Business Enterprise contractors to work on the development now known as The Landings at East Pointe.
For a previous housing authority project, 63 percent of the subcontractor pool consisted of disadvantaged, minority- or women minority-owned business enterprises. That success enabled Chris-Tel to become one of the state’s HUD Section 3 contractors, which requires it to employ other Section 3 contractors with economic challenges.
“We are trying, as a company, to encourage more folks to participate in any way that they can,” Wheeler says. —Lori Johnston
LARGE COMPANY, QUARLES & BRADY LLP
If you are a woman in the law, Quarles & Brady may be one of the best places to work. Kimberly Leach Johnson, based in the Naples office, is chair of the firm. Female attorneys head three of its nine offices. “For us, this is not a one-off initiative,” says T. Robert Bulloch, managing partner of the Naples office, which opened in 1982. “This is the dyed-in-the-wool fabric of our operation. That’s why you have leaders that are diverse.”
The firm, which employs 900 in the U.S. and China, and 47 in Naples, has been recognized for its commitment to women in leadership. Among the accolades: Working Mother and consulting group Flex-Time Lawyers named Quarles & Brady one of the Best Law Firms for Women 2013. Florida Trend and Best Companies Group named it one of Florida's Best Companies to Work for 2012 and 2013. The Women in Law Empowerment Forum awarded Quarles & Brady its Gold Standard Certification in 2013—recognition of the leadership role of women partners.
Bulloch believes the firm can provide stronger service to clients by drawing on a larger pool of qualified candidates from every background. Quarles & Brady reaches out by attending minority job fairs, sponsoring scholarships for minority students, and working closely with career placement officers. Inside the firm, mentoring and leadership programs help women and other minorities move up the ranks. “It is not hard for me to recruit a diverse candidate when they see my boss is diverse,” says Bulloch. “It’s not lip service. It’s living it.” —Lori Johnston