For the eighth-straight year, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) of St. Petersburg celebrated the long-lasting impacts created by three of the city’s African American leaders.
The IMA held its annual Legacy Awards Dinner Saturday night (Feb. 4) at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Rev. J.C. Pritchett II, executive director of the organization, said the formal event celebrated African American history, culture and achievements at a critical time.
Will Lawson, a longtime Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy, was one of three to receive recognition. He has served as a community policing deputy for nearly 17 years, and Pritchett said that considering recent national events, presenting Lawson with his award carried extra meaning.
“I mentioned how important it was to have examples of men and women who should be in law enforcement as role models and as heroes,” said Pritchett. “Especially with the tragic incident with Tyre Nichols in Memphis two weeks ago and other instances of violence, it was great to honor someone like Will Lawson.”
Theresa Jones, veterans and social services manager for the City of St. Petersburg, also received a Legacy Award at the event. As Mayor Ken Welch noted during his Jan. 30 State of the City address, Jones will retire in less than two weeks following a 45-year career as a public servant.
At the event, Welch said she initially retired as community affairs director in 2012, but her “we are St. Pete DNA was too strong.” She assumed her current role in 2018 at former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s request.
Pritchett said Jones would assume a volunteer position with the Tampa Bay Rays front office following her retirement. He noted team Co-Presidents Matt Silverman and Brian Auld attended the event before a Florida Holocaust Museum gala.
“They (the Rays) have been outspoken as a professional team about Black Lives Matter, about LGBTQ rights and about women’s rights,” Pritchett added. “So, we (the IMA) have enjoyed our relationship with them.”
Lisa Brody, assistant deputy director for Bay Area Legal Services (BALS), was the third Legacy Award recipient. BALS is the largest nonprofit public interest law firm in the region, and Pritchett noted she volunteers with several local organizations.
Brody is also a member of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Campus Advisory Board.
“It was important timing to uplift how important it is that we have the right kind of people in law enforcement,” Pritchett said. “It is also important for us to acknowledge that regardless of what happens in Tallahassee, African American history, culture, achievement and experiences will be discussed, honored and shared.”
He believes that the people of St. Petersburg lead the state regarding their recognition of Black history and excellence. Pritchett added that when he assumed leadership of the IMA in 2018, he told its members that the local chapter must represent “Black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, Jewish and Christian” residents to properly reflect the city’s diversity.
Pritchett noted residents overwhelmingly voted for Welch to become their first African American mayor in 2021. He also expressed his belief that as a “son of the Gas Plant,” Welch and the Rays development team will “deliver on broken promises” made to former residents and their descendants.
“Our organization (IMA) is diverse, our city is diverse and we are going to make a historical development at the Gas Plant site under the leadership of this administration,” Pritchett said.