RECOGNIZED — The DeLand City Commission gives health care activist Byllye Avery a proclamation declaring April 3 Byllye Avery Day in DeLand. From left are Avery’s wife, Ngina Lythcott; her son, Wesley Avery; DeLand City Commissioner Kevin Reid; Linda Goler Blount, the CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, the organization Avery founded; City Commissioner Dan Reed; Avery; Mayor Chris Cloudman; City Commissioner Charles Paiva; and Avery’s sister-in-law and brother Allie and David Bell-Reddick.

Kids attending the DeLand City Commission meeting April 3 had the incredible opportunity to learn about health care activist Byllye Avery.

Nearly every City Commission meeting kicks off with presentations and recognitions.

At the April 3 meeting, the City Commission Chambers was a packed house, filled with children.

Not only was the City Commission thanking George Marks Elementary’s art students for letting the city borrow their works to hang in City Hall, commissioners were also set to recognize DeLand’s Student Superstars of the Month, a program where teachers can nominate students for doing any number of great things at schools across the city.

There was another item in the presentations — a proclamation declaring April 3 to be Byllye Avery Day in the city of DeLand. Born and raised in DeLand, Avery is an 85-year-old activist whose work in the field of reproductive rights has won her awards from the MacArthur Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences and more.

Avery was visiting DeLand to speak at Stetson University for Public Health Week. During her speech at Stetson, Avery listed some of her accomplishments, but she noted that being recognized by your hometown somehow rises above all of the awards, honorary degrees and prizes she’s won over the years.

At the City Commission meeting, Avery’s presentation wasn’t the first on the schedule, but Mayor Chris Cloudman used his discretionary power as mayor to move Avery to the top of the agenda, so the kids in the chamber would have the opportunity to see one of their community’s elders, a Black woman with a career in promoting reproductive rights and health education, be recognized.

Standing at the dais, Avery addressed the kids in the audience.

“I am so pleased to see all of these young people here,” she said. “I hope the one thing you will remember [is] that one day you were at a City Commission and an older Black woman accepted a proclamation of a day in DeLand, Florida, named for her. You, too, can do community service and public work, because we need you. The world needs you, and it’s your world.”

After graduating from Euclid High School in DeLand, Avery enrolled at Talladega College in 1955. The commencement speaker that year was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an up-and-coming pastor from Georgia. When Avery graduated and the Civil Rights Movement was beginning in earnest, the guest speaker was, again, Dr. King.

King’s message to Avery’s class? You have to get involved in your community. It was the very same message she delivered to the kids in the DeLand City Commission Chambers April 3.

“I hope you will be inspired by what you see here,” Avery said. “Know the world is your oyster. It belongs to you.”

I commend Mayor Cloudman for reminding everyone that the most important people in DeLand are the future generation.

For someone — who because of the color of her skin couldn’t even set foot in many places in her hometown, including the classrooms of Stetson University — to be recognized by the city was a beautiful thing.

I can’t think of a more important message to give young people today: Each and every one of us has the power to shape our communities, and to make a difference. When one of us forgets that, every single one of us is hurt.

Read more about health care activist Byllye Avery from writer Eli Witek here.


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