BARTOW – On June 29 State Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) told 18 local students that when you get a call in life, how you respond is the key.

As the guest speaker at the 27th Bartow Deacons and Stewards Alliance, Driskell said how you respond can make or break an aspiring community leader.

“Every act starts with a call and that goes with your response. The call is nothing without the response,” she said.

Driskell said she learned this at an early age. When she was in the fifth grade she told her mother she knew what she wanted to do in life. She wanted to be a teacher. Her mother did that for 35 years. Her mother told her no. She told her do something where you can help the teachers.

“I didn't get it then,” she said.

An honor graduate from Lake Gibson High School, Driskell attended Harvard University where she was the first African American female to serve as president of the student government, called the Undergraduate Council. It was there she discovered her call to go into government.

“Everything changed when I took government and the economy,” she said. “I had a knack for it.”

Driskell is now a member of the Athena Society, the Hillsborough Education Foundation, Hillsborough Association of Women Lawyers, the Hillsborough County Bar Association, American Bar Association, Tampa Crossroads Inc. George Edgecomb Bar Association and a volunteer for the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts. In 2018 she won her seat in the state House of Representatives getting 53 percent of the vote, beating incumbent Shawn Harrison. This year's event honored others who have taken on roles in providing these scholarships.

Bartow Deacons and Stewards Alliance President Carver Young said six years ago the golf tournament that raises money for the scholarship was named for retired professional and Hall of Famer Herbert Dixon.

“When we had the first tournament we were having a problem getting sponsors and people to buy in,” Young said.

The first year there were about 60 players. The second year there was a fight with the weather and about 45 people participated.

“Then I talked to one of my friends, Edna McNair, Fred's wife,” Carver said. “And Brother Fred came on board.”

Young said his determination showed.

“Fred said they are going to give us some money,” Young said. “This year we had 128 golfers and we had to turn people down. This is now the biggest golf tournament in Bartow.”

Gracefully accepting the award and the recognition, Dixon, who will turn 100 on Sept. 19, should be the one to be recognized, McNair said.

Also honored at the banquet was Jacqueline Byrd, Polk's Superintendent of Schools, and Leo Longworth, a city commissioner since 1995 and contributor to the community. Both were recognized as Champions of Giving.

Byrd has been the superintendent since February 2016. Polk County Public Schools had 20 state athletic championship teams and all the high schools have at least a 75 percent graduation rate said Deacons Elder N'Kosi James.

“She's done exactly what she said she was going to do,” James said.

When recognizing Longworth, James said his former neighbor and one of the coolest people he's ever met, thanked God for all his achievements.

Among Longworth's accomplishments are 24 years on the Bartow City Commission and five years as mayor, he is a member of the Eastside Positive Action Committee, Ridge League of Cities, the East End Focus Group, Scholarship Committee, advocacy Committee of the Ridge League of Cities Inc., the Florida League of Cities where is currently president, National Black Caucus Local Elected Officials Foundation, Polk State College Foundation, National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, NAACP, Mason in Progress Lodge #77 and Lillie White Chapter #13 Holy Royal Arch Masons.

“It is great that they were selected,” said emcee Kay Fields. “Both are champions … they want to make this a better place.”

To press to the students to never stop driving, Driskell told them don't be afraid and to look at the word fail as an acronym that means First Attempt at Learning.

“You are the result of Martin Luther King's response,” she said. “People knew our country could be better. It doesn't matter the size of the calling, but it's how you respond.”

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