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St. Pete has an equity office at full strength

Mark Parker



Mayor Ken Welch (left) and Carl Lavender, St. Petersburg's interim chief equity officer. Mitigating a rash of youth gun violence is a shared priority. Photo: Davida Franklin, Tampa Bay Rays.

Mayor Ken Welch recently announced two new positions and hires within St. Petersburg’s Office of Equity. The man leading them is ready to embrace some hard work.

Carl Lavender, interim chief equity officer, said an office priority is preventing youth gun violence. A May 11 funeral underscored the mission’s importance.

Lavender attended services for Amir Williams, 11, who was accidentally shot and killed by his brother, 14, with a stolen gun. Lavender called the funeral “powerful” and “exhausting.”

“For any parent, grandparent or guardian of a child, you can’t help but be moved with great compassion,” Lavender said. “And it begs the question, how can this never happen again?”

He said the moment reminded him of the commitment needed to prevent those tragedies. Lavender also stressed the importance of lived experiences.

Former City Councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, the new community impact and safety liaison, understands what it is like to lose a child. Her son, Cabretti, was gunned down in September 2008 at the age of 21.

“When it comes to developing community partnerships, collaborations, challenging systems, coming up with programs and ways to make a difference in that regard, what better lived experience can you have at the table in our city?” Lavender asked rhetorically.

Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, community impact and safety liaison.

Rev. Kenny Irby is the equity office’s new faith and community justice liaison. He is the senior pastor at Historic Bethel AME Church and previously served as director of community intervention and juvenile outreach for the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Irby will work closely with the city’s interfaith organization to help create a community action plan. Lavender said fostering a substantial impact requires deliberately engaging people from all backgrounds.

The overarching goal is bringing Welch’s vision of a city where “everyone can feel safe, thrive and succeed” to fruition. Lavender called that a “heavy responsibility” but believes his team has the right mix of passion and compassion.

City officials typically focus on providing infrastructure and services. However, Lavender noted that they could also “go to the funeral of an 11-year-old child and say, ‘What can we do for that family and children in that situation?’

“That, to me, is impactful government.”

Rounding out the equity office is Dr. Sherron Brown, director of education and youth opportunities, and Debra Buschman, operations analyst. Lavender said Buschman compiles vital data and will create an annual report for taxpayers.

Lavender stressed that residents are his boss. That underscores the importance of providing a thorough annual report to the community before the end of the year.

Carlos Daniels, youth director for the city’s Cohort of Champions program, is also part of the team. Lavender said Daniels has critical connections among young people.

Lavender called Irby, Wheeler-Bowman and Daniels the “strong trio” of leaders the city needs in the community. They will hit the ground running as kids embark on summer break and are “more likely to get into something they don’t belong in.”

Rev. Kenny Irby, faith and community justice liaison.

“We’re calling upon youth leaders and activists, pastors and youth agencies and philanthropists … to get as many young people enrolled in summer programming as possible,” Lavender added. “The environment that creates a point of view that says you want to do something harmful to others has to be challenged. That is the key.”

He expects Wheeler-Bowman to play an outsized role in those efforts. Lavender said the former city council member is “ecstatic” to be back in public service.

He noted that Wheeler-Bowman and Irby have name recognition throughout City Hall and the community. “These kinds of rollouts are highly sensitive,” Lavender said. “So, having Irby and Bowman together is a great team that people are already responding to.”

Lavender expressed excitement for the opportunities to create a meaningful impact. He also understands the arduous road ahead.

However, Lavender said he embraces hard work and believes his team’s efforts will ensure equitable progress throughout the city – as people expect. Data will drive his decision-making, and he pledged to create a demonstrable impact.

Lavender retired as co-CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg in June 2023 after 48 years in public service. Welch selected Lavender for his latest role in November after the city’s first chief equity officer resigned after 23 days.

The interim title is mostly semantics. Welch told the Catalyst in December that Lavender “will be with us as long as he would like to because he’s doing a fantastic job.” Lavender said he is “full speed ahead to do the best I can for right now – today.”

“I believe in this mayor; I believe in this city,” he added. “I believe in this city council, and I am fully committed to making sure we have an equitable portfolio that is both impressive and impactful.”




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  1. Avatar


    May 19, 2024at12:44 pm

    More Govt “equity office” exist to create more Govt programs and take more money from many families who earned it to a few families that didn’t work for it or won’t do anything to pay it back. I didn’t vote this this?

  2. Avatar

    Velva Lee Heraty

    May 19, 2024at11:33 am

    It’s unfortunate we need one.

  3. Avatar


    May 19, 2024at9:41 am

    Gentrify the entirety of south st Petersburg. Price out drug dealing, gun weilding prostitutes and let law abiding citizens reap the benefits of their sacrifice. Huge numbers of residents take zero responsibility for themselves or their community… So why does the government take responsibility for them? This government certainly doesnt speak for me or the law abiding tax payer.

  4. Avatar

    Ryan Todd

    May 19, 2024at12:21 am

    The government cannot raise the children; Parents are responsible for raising children. Youth gun violence is the result of bad parenting full-stop.

  5. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    May 18, 2024at5:42 pm

    We, the Community’ need to embrace this initiative because we are losing our babies to gun violence almost every month sometimes more. Please let us support this Initiative.

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