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Community leader retires after 48 years of service

Mark Parker



Carl Lavender, chief equity officer for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, speaks at a youth summit. Photo provided.

For Carl Lavender, it is the season for self-examination, a time to reflect on where you stand with your faith, finances and fitness – in that order.

After some personal introspection, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg’s chief equity officer decided the time was right to step away from public service. He announced his retirement June 30, after spending the last 48 years working with nonprofits.

Lavender said he wanted to provide an opportunity for the next generation to “scale their career pathway.” He will turn 70 Aug. 22 and said that “is the time to share wisdom and give counseling and to advise at the senior level.”

“So, I just decided that this was the season to come out of marquee status and move into supporting cast,” Lavender added. “I just felt in my spirit that it was time to retire.”

He agreed to continue serving as a senior advisor for the city’s largest grantmaking agency through December. Its board appointed Lavender as interim co-CEO in June 2022, and he said Dr. Kanika Tomalin asked for his help on some projects.

Tomalin became the Foundation’s permanent CEO in June. She replaced Randall Russell, who resigned in November 2022 following a nearly five-month investigation into leadership concerns.

While he is already relishing his part-time role, Lavender said he would consider working in that capacity into 2024 if Tomalin requested his service. He led community investments, partnerships and programming as the Foundation’s chief equity officer for five years.

“I’ve been advising them on projects coming up in the quarter anyway,” Lavender said. “People know who I am and respect that, and it works out pretty good.”

Carl Lavender (left), now a senior advisor for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, with Harold Bryant, community experience coordinator. Photo: Facebook.

He is also willing to lend his nearly five decades of experience to smaller nonprofits. Lavender said many local organizations “sit at the intersection of hope and opportunity” and lack scalable expertise.

He also believes the Foundation is well-positioned for success in his absence. Lavender helped gather over 175 community leaders to discern what traits they wanted to see in the organization’s new CEO.

He said there is “no doubt” that Tomalin, Marcus Brooks, executive director of the Center for Health Equity; Lisa Brody, chief strategy officer; and Carol Martin Brown, chief financial and administrative officer – and his co-interim CEO – will take the Foundation to new heights.

Tomalin served two terms as St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor and helped form the Foundation as a Bayfront Health System executive. Lavender called her “the perfect choice.”

While he was born and began his nonprofit career in Cleveland, Lavender said he didn’t learn “how to be a professional” until he moved to Chicago. That is when he realized he could make money while making a difference.

“I learned how to hone my skills, pick the right conferences, the right workshops, find the right mentors – all of that was part of my Chicago experience,” Lavender said.

Lavender, a self-proclaimed fan of lists, said he is most proud of three things in his nonprofit career: the James Jordan Boys and Girls Club in Chicago, revitalizing South St. Petersburg’s Royal Theatre and the Foundation’s Center for Health Equity.

The Boys and Girls Club bears the name of Famed basketball player Michael Jordan’s father, who was murdered in 1993. Lavender said he helped raise about $5 million for the career-defining project with the Jordan Family Foundation.

Lavender said he, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and former Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis raised “a ton of money” to restore the Royal Theatre, on the 22nd Street South corridor (the Deuces) in 2003.

Lavender said that project kicked off South St. Pete’s renaissance and led to several other restorations and new developments. It now serves a Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast facility, with a recording studio funded by local businessman Bill Edwards.

The Center for Health Equity recently reopened after a pandemic-induced hiatus. Lavender noted it is the city’s first venue dedicated to discussing race, equity, leadership and community, and he takes great pride in helping bring “that building to life.”

Lavender now anticipates seeing if the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment and Structural Racism Study recommendations can continue propelling equity in St. Petersburg. He said the city could show the rest of the nation how to move beyond past transgressions.

“Economically, culturally, education – we can be a model city,” Lavender said emphatically. “I would love to see the beginning of that now, as part of my wisdom to share, but the beginning of our young people to embrace it also …”

Lavender also encourages the next generation of community leaders to devote time for self-introspection, persevere and stay focused.

“Measure your life,” he added. “Some things you do well, some things you don’t do so well. But continue to measure your impact and measure your progress.”






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  1. Avatar

    Charlie Guy

    July 9, 2023at6:53 am

    Having served as the Deuces Live volunteer multimodal transportation (bikes & buses) consultant since late 2020 and then having also joined his table 11/1/22 for Mayor’s Welch’s community listening session, I certainly can especially appreciate all that Carl has done to aid the Deuce Live improvement efforts including his service on their board. His efforts and those of Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg have greatly contributed to our research & community engagement efforts in developing our soon to be formally presented formally to City officials: THE Deuces Family Strong Concept based upon the Deuces Bikeway as the cornerstone of our Southside Greenway Pinellas Trail Loop Hubs Plan.

  2. Avatar

    Alan DeLisle

    July 8, 2023at5:21 am

    A great leader! Congratulations Carl.

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