Monday, September 12, 2022

The unofficial mayor of West Augustine': Greg White to get top award from St. Augustine. (SAR)

City Hall, September 12, 4:30 pm La Florida honor for Greg White.  Our community is honored by the great work of this leader, a "drum major for justice," like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

From St. Augustine Record: 

The unofficial mayor of West Augustine': Greg White to get top award from St. Augustine

Sheldon Gardner
St. Augustine Record
West Augustine resident and community advocate Greg White stands in front of the Solomon Calhoun Community Center on Friday. He played a key role in establishing the facility.

Driving through West Augustine, people probably won't see Greg White Sr.'s name in flashing lights, but his influence is everywhere, friends and city officials said. 

White, 74, has lived in the community for decades and has devoted years to service, including time as chair of the West Augustine Community Redevelopment Area Steering Committee. 

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He's a driving force behind the Solomon Calhoun Community Center and Pool, a proposed medical clinic in West Augustine, affordable housing, reduced crime, sewer infrastructure expansion and many other efforts. Some call him the unofficial mayor of West Augustine.

Now he's going to be honored with the city of St. Augustine's top honor: The Order of La Florida Award.

"He's one of the best community leaders I've ever seen, and I just couldn't imagine not working with him at the table," said Robert Nimmons, current chair of the West Augustine CRA Steering Committee.

About 20 people have received the award since its creation, including civil rights activist Robert Hayling, archaeologist Kathleen Deagan and former Flagler College President Bill Proctor. 

An 'example of perseverance'

The Order of La Florida Award, created by the city in 1975, recognizes someone who "over a long period of time has unselfishly devoted his or her time and talent to the welfare and betterment of St. Augustine’s citizens and heritage, who has exemplified the finest qualities of citizenship, and has contributed extraordinary services to the community," according to a city news release.

There can be up to 10 living recipients at one time, and people must be at least 55 years old to be eligible. A city commissioner makes the nomination to the commission for a vote. Commissioners recently OK'd White's nomination. 

Mayor Tracy Upchurch nominated White. The city will present the award to him at 4:30 p.m. on Monday at The Alcazar Room at City Hall. 

Upchurch chose White "for his years of selfless service to the community, specifically in West St. Augustine improving the lives of our youth and underserved residents," according to the release. 

“Greg is an exceptional example of perseverance; he is a man that does not tire and does not quit,” Upchurch said. “Further, his ability to work with a great variety of individuals and groups to move projects forward is an example to us all.” 

White said it's an honor, "especially an honor to be nominated by the mayor."

'This can be done and it can be done by you'

West Augustine resident and community advocate Greg White stands next to a sign in front of the Solomon Calhoun Community Center on Friday. The city of St. Augustine, which will honor White on Monday with an award, said he was a key player in establishing the facility.

West Augustine is a historically Black community that has struggled with neglect, poverty and crime but has also seen the fruits of the labor of White and many others who live in the area and beyond. Those efforts have reduced crime, provided better roads and other infrastructure, social services and other things a community needs to thrive. 

One of the key pieces of that help has come through the CRA steering committee, which guides a portion of property tax revenue from West Augustine to be reinvested in the area. White is still an advisor to the committee. 

Born in Putnam County, White moved to St. Augustine at 11 years old. He graduated from Murray High School in 1965, "married his high school sweetheart, Lydia," and served in in the Army in Vietnam, according to the city and White. 

"White lived through the Civil Rights era in St. Augustine and even marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Over the years, White became involved in the community, including serving as the Fifth District Commander for the American Legion, either as the chair or working on committees and sub-committees with Post 194," according to the city. "More and more, White witnessed first-hand, the imbalance and disparity of services and support to the residents of West St. Augustine, and he made it his mission to make a difference."

He retired in 2002 as a residential energy consultant with Florida Power and Light. 

White and his wife chose not only to raise a family in West Augustine ― they have four adult children and many grandchildren ― but also stay there to invest in West Augustine and its residents. 

White said he was inspired to stay in the neighborhood during a conversation with a retired teacher, who is now deceased, who lived in West Augustine. 

"He was saying that, you know, after segregation and the beginning of integration, a lot of the middle class, which was teachers during that time and insurance salesmen, etc., they left West Augustine, and he did not," White said. "He built a beautiful home in Collier Heights, and he said one of the reasons he stayed was because the young (guys) that have aspirations on having a house like his could actually see it. And if they move out of the neighborhood, the (young people) could never see it. And that stuck with me. I believed it."

The message White wants to send to people: "This can be done, and it can be done by you," he said.

A key piece of White's work has been acting as a bridge-builder in the community, making relationships with residents, business leaders and elected officials to bring improvements to West Augustine, friends and city officials said. 

"All one has to do is walk down King Street in West St. Augustine to bear witness to his impact: the American Legion Kids’ Safe Zone, now in its 27th year; and the West Augustine Community Center, located at the Collier-Blocker-Puryear Park," according to the city.  "As Chair of the West Augustine Community Redevelopment Agency, White also was instrumental in establishing the Solomon Calhoun Center and Community Pool."

Nimmons and Dwala Willis, a West Augustine resident and fellow community advocate, work alongside White.

In thinking of examples of White's service, the two said White helped connect several people in the community to jobs at Northrop Grumman, including paying for a couple of them to take a required general education test to prepare for employment. 

Nimmons also pointed to White's work with children as part of Kids Safe Zone, a free after-school program that helps kids with homework, tutoring and "enrichment" such as swimming lessons at the Solomon Calhoun Community Center. 

"When WWII Veteran Cornelius Jones [now deceased] and Vietnam Veteran Greg White at the  American Legion Post 194 in West St. Augustine, saw a study that advised children's failure to do homework was contributing to the low graduation rates in their neighborhood, they opened their doors to the local children and Kids Safe Zone was born," according to the program website. 

Willis described White as "the foot soldier" of building a relationship with city officials that has led to funding for sewer expansion in the area.

She said while White has done too many things to list, and his work is not done. 

"It's been an honor and a privilege to follow alongside Greg as community leaders and advocates. ... He leads by example, and he's the change we want to see, and the change we're experiencing," Willis said. 

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