St. Petersburg’s landmark 2021 Structural Racism Study urged city officials to establish a chief equity officer position; Mayor Ken Welch announced that he created the role in May.
In August, Welch pledged to fill the position by the fall. He publicly named Lenice C. Emanuel the city’s first chief equity officer today.
Emanuel brings over 25 years of nonprofit, government, fund development and community relations experience to her new role. She most recently served as executive director of the Alabama Institute for Social Justice (AISJ), a statewide agency dedicated to promoting racial justice and reconciliation.
“Lenice has the experience and track record in bringing diverse groups together to engage in meaningful dialogue that can positively impact a range of social justice issues – here at the city and in the community,” Welch said in a prepared statement.
“Not only am I excited about Lenice’s return to St. Petersburg, but she is the right leader to ensure that intentional equity remains at the forefront of my administration’s priorities.”
Emanuel begins her new role Oct. 2. She will join the Mayor’s Cabinet, or executive team, and report directly to Chief of Staff Jordan “Doyle” Walsh. Emanuel will collaborate with community stakeholders to ensure city officials integrate equity and inclusion into policies and procedures.
She called the opportunity a “great honor” and looks forward to starting a new journey with a community she has “long loved.” Emmanuel plans to bring together “the best of all of us while centering the needs, values and aspirations of those historically marginalized.”
“At its core, St. Pete is rich in diversity, inclusiveness and progressive intention, making it perfectly poised to lead in the area of equity,” Emanuel added. “We are committed to leaving no one behind, where all of us will rise, together, as one St. Pete.”
Local historian Gwendolyn Reese, president of the African American Heritage Association of St. Petersburg, has supported Emanuel since her time at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) Tampa Bay. Emanuel became the first Black president of the St. Petersburg-based affiliate in 2010.
According to its website, the global nonprofit works to eliminate racism, empower women, foster social justice, help families and strengthen communities. Emanuel led the organization until 2015.
“Social and racial justice is what she is all about,” Reese told the Catalyst. “She’s the daughter of a Baptist minister who was very active in the civil rights movement – she grew up in this environment of justice and injustice.”
Emanuel moved to Alabama in 2015 and led the YWCA Greater Mobile. She also held leadership roles with the City of Prichard, the Mobile Area Education Foundation and the Montgomery YMCA.
Reese noted that Emanuel gained national notoriety throughout her eight-year tenure with the AISJ. Emanuel served on a state committee that helped pass the Childcare Safety Act, which established uniform standards for all childcare centers in Alabama.
Emanuel launched the grassroots Alabama Movement for Childcare and led statewide efforts to reduce poverty among women and children. She is also part of an international group of climate advocates trained by former Vice President Al Gore.
“I can think of no one with a better grasp of equity, what it means and how to accomplish it than Lenice Emanuel,” Reese added.
She credited former Mayor Rick Kriseman for commissioning the Structural Racism Study and recognizing the need for a chief equity officer. However, voters rejected two charter amendments to establish and fund the position in November 2021.
At the time, Kriseman pledged to continue taking steps to implement the role until he left office. Welch carried the baton, and Reese, one of the study’s authors, believes the city can serve as a national model for equity.
She noted that the announcement came a week after the administration and Tampa Bay Rays/Hines group reached an agreement on the Historic Gas Plant District’s redevelopment. “I think all of this just ties together so beautifully,” Reese said.
“I’m so excited about it – and so excited to be a part of it.”