Deltona resident and mentor Felicia Benzo and 100 of her Catalyst Global Youth Initiatives Inc. students were invited to Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach to watch a live feed of the designation of a new statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune — the first African American to be honored in National Statuary Hall — in Washington, D.C.
The watch party, with more than 500 attendees, was organized by Bethune-Cookman University as an opportunity for locals to be a part of the historic event that was taking place in D.C. Elected officials were invited, as were summer campers from an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority summer camp and members of the National Council of Negro Women, an organization founded by Bethune.
Bethune founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904. Her school merged with the Cookman Institute in 1923, and the university — named for the merged institutions — now operates as a historically Black private university.
For Benzo, who attended a historically Black college in Pennsylvania, it was incredible to share the unveiling of the first statue of a Black American in National Statuary Hall with her students.
“It was very inspiring to me,” Benzo said. “She’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Not just an educator, Bethune was also a civil rights activist and an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
According to The Washington Post, Bethune’s statue will replace that of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
“To see her replace a Confederate general, to me it was just awesome,” Daisy Taylor Grimes told The Beacon. “Something she always fought for was for this country to be one that lived up to what the Constitution says, and for us to be united as one.”
Grimes is a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University. She also worked at the university for some 20 years and served as the chair of the committee that organized the watch party. It was important for the committee to invite young people, like Benzo’s students, she said.
“This was such a historic event, we really wanted young people to attend it and also learn a little more about Bethune-Cookman University,” Grimes said. “They were able to learn a lot about Bethune-Cookman and Dr. Bethune.”