Michael “Mike” Williams, former president of the West Volusia NAACP and a community advocate Demetris Pressley, a community leader and former director of the City of DeLand’s Public Works Department Mamie Oatis, principal, homeless liaison, community advocate Ralph “R.J.” Simpson, youth advocate and community advocate

African American history and culture is our history. It is the legacy left for generations to come that has helped to build the unity that exists in West Volusia.

DeLand is unique in that the Greater Union Life Center began a recognition banner event in 2019. The banners can be seen all month flying high on Woodland Boulevard, from Howry Avenue to Ohio Avenue.

“The Life Center believes this is important because many individuals contribute to our community silently, not seeking recognition or accolades, only focused on doing for others.

Joe Chisholm, community advocate who organized a youth baseball league
Shirley Ellison, a 4-H coordinator and community advocate
Vivian Davenport, community advocate
The Rev. Angela Dallas-Johnson, the first Black female funeral home owner in DeLand

“This measure is a small token of appreciation and an opportunity to educate the greater DeLand community of the work these pillars have done and are doing within our small gem of DeLand,” said Mario Davis, the Greater Union Life Center’s executive director.

Each year, 16 individuals are nominated to be recognized on these banners during Black History Month. These local heroes work from the heart to make our community great, from being faithful servants and business owners, to community advocates and mentors.

Alzada Fowler, Volusia County’s first Black educator at what had been an all-white school
Pastor Troy A. Bradley Sr., a community leader, pastor and retired Volusia County Schools employee
Mitzi Caine, a community advocate
Dr. Terry Blanks, a dentist

Many have broken barriers that led to becoming the first African Americans in their fields, which opened doors for others to achieve.

“I appreciate and I am grateful for the acknowledgment. I’m glad I can serve and make a difference in this community that I love. Especially for people of color who have embraced me and encouraged me. I’m also grateful for my wife, Monica, and family. They are my motivation and always support me. I pray that the Lord continues to use me for His will and plan,” shared Pastor Demetris Pressley, a longtime community advocate and one of the banner honorees this year.

Ted Small, community advocate, Harvard graduate
Deacon Charlie and Mother Pauline Wyche, community advocates
Stanley Jenkins, first Black firefighter in DeLand, drafted by NFL Philadelphia Eagles
Lavon Williams, city’s first Black firefighter

Each of the recipients has a story to share of triumph, hard work and seemingly endless adversity. But these things never ceased their passion for helping others and doing more.

“Words cannot express enough how honored and humbly thankful I am for being selected to receive this special recognition. I want to give my sincere thanks to the DeLand community and everyone for the outstanding support given during my years as principal of Southwestern Middle School. Just truly grateful,” said Mamie Oatis, a longtime DeLand supporter and another banner honoree.

Downtown DeLand welcomes you to not only visit the wonderful shops and restaurants, but also take a stroll to witness history in the making.

“It teaches us to never give up; the sky’s the limit,” local community member Shameka Davis said.

— Cameron, a longtime educator, lives in Orange City. Send email to her at cameronchronicleslive@gmail.com.

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