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The wait is over: St. Pete has a chief equity officer

Mark Parker



Lenice C. Emanuel served as St. Petersburg's inaugural chief equity officer for less than a month before submitting her resignation. Photo: Alabama Institute for Social Justice.

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.”

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  1. Avatar

    Mary Kovacs

    September 27, 2023at6:20 am

    This is what socialist do to continue the in-equity against its citizens! Bad move St.Petersburg to continue pushing the city councils division of its citizens. Equity is the new name for afirmative action programs that were dismantled because of proven failure. This position is more waste of our tax dollars.

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    Ron Sacino

    September 27, 2023at2:23 am

    Bravo, Lenice!

  3. Avatar


    September 27, 2023at12:27 am

    $185,000 salary according to Tampa times seems a little excessive for this type of position.

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    September 26, 2023at8:54 pm

    Great! I will sleep better tonight knowing that this crucial position has been filled.

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    September 26, 2023at8:07 pm

    Seems odd, shady. Voted down 2x, and then forced in. Meanwhile major commonly known corporations are eliminating the exact position she has been awarded after realizing the position is nothing more than a cancerous, opportunistic money grabbing, parasite that harms the host. See SF, LA, Chicago, NYC, Detroit, Austin for how well this position is at improving those cities standard of living.

  6. Avatar

    Amber Bennett

    September 26, 2023at7:20 pm

    Congratulations Ms. Emanuel!

  7. Avatar

    Evelyn Newman Phillips, PhD

    September 26, 2023at4:54 pm

    Congratulations Ms.Emanuel. Best wishes. The ancestors are with you.

  8. Avatar

    Polita Glynn

    September 26, 2023at4:31 pm

    Welcome Ms. Emanuel. Look forward to your work and implementation of the recommendations in the report.

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    james gillespie

    September 26, 2023at4:22 pm


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    Ryan Todd

    September 26, 2023at4:19 pm

    My apologies, but I’m a bit confused. We rejected the charter amendment to establish and find the position, but Welch went ahead and established the position anyway?! I understand the new position may not be tied to the charter, but the voters clearly said “No” to the equity officer position.

    Equitable outcomes are the enemy of equal opportunity and counter to our capitalist society.

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