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Change of Scouts' name outrages black parents

To many Girl Scouts, Henrietta Dominis was their driving force in Scouting. It was Mrs. Dominis who organized the city's first black neighborhood Girl Scout council in the early 1950s. The group changed its name in 1958 to the Henrietta Dominis Neighborhood Girl Scout Council. The name carried on, even after Mrs. Dominis' death in 1971.

But when the Suncoast Girl Scout Council decided to change the name of the "neighborhood" _ the term used for geographical areas that recruit Girl Scouts _ parents and Scouts were bitter. The neighborhood represents 11 troops in areas of the city populated mostly by black residents. They fought to keep the name and preserve a bit of history.

"This was all borne out of the decision to take Mrs. (Henrietta) Dominis' name from this neighborhood," said the Rev. Wayne G. Thompson. "It's a slap in the face to the black community."

The council has since put its efforts to change the name on hold. But parents and Thompson feel they never should have had to fight.

"One or two people sat down and decided that they wanted to abolish the name Dominis," said Sharifa Williams, whose daughters Ifetayo and Erica are members of Brownie Troop 551. "You just can't make that decision. There is too much behind the name."

Merger leads to change

The 137 Girl Scouts in the Dominis neighborhood technically lost the name last year when they joined with the 16 predominantly white troops of South Baywood to become the Dominis/South Baywood neighborhood. The Dominis neighborhood begins at Ninth Avenue N, heads south to 35th Avenue S and stretches over to 43rd Street S.

Parents said they had no objections to the merger because Dominis was still part of the name.

But that changed in May when representatives from the Suncoast Girl Scout Council and both neighborhoods decided that if the neighborhoods were to function as one, they needed a name that promoted unity. Baybreezes was the name selected.

While parents say that only a few people made the decision to change the name, the council says that was not the case. Calls about the meeting went out to each troop leader, said Michele Knight, a field executive for Suncoast that represents Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.

"Dominis/South Baywood was a mouthful," she said. "There was a lot of, "They're Dominis girls and they're South Baywood.' It encouraged separatism rather than equality."

Equality is the "essence of what the name Dominis means for us," said Thompson, pastor of First Institutional Baptist Church, home to many of the parents who fought to maintain the name Dominis as part of their daughters' Scouting experience.

"This is the woman who activated and energized Girl Scouting in the black community," Thompson said. "She was a pioneer in this community and a true friend to Girl Scouting. We can't just rid ourselves of that history."

The missing page

Her picture never made it to the history books, nor is her name one of the many rattled off during Black History Month.

But Henrietta Dominis certainly did her part.

In 1928 she organized the county's first black art exhibit. When told the works could not be exhibited at the county fair next to those done by white artists, Mrs. Dominis, a former Pinellas County teacher in schools set aside for blacks, moved the exhibit to the Largo Town Hall. Her husband was a prominent local artist.

Mrs. Dominis, who was born in Bainbridge, Ga., was a graduate of Hampton Institute in Virginia and Florida Baptist Academy (Now Florida Memorial College) in St. Augustine.

When she organized the city's first black neighborhood Girl Scout Council, she opened the world of Scouting to many girls who would not have had the chance until years later, after the civil rights movement and the social changes it brought.

"Mrs. Dominis' troop was the only troop that African-American women could join back then," said Ms. Williams, cookie leader for Troop 551 and a former Girl Scout.

Rosemary Holliday does not know everything. She would be the first to admit it. But after 48 years in Scouting, she would like to think she knows a lot..

"I had no idea who this woman was. What she did wasn't written down anywhere," said Holliday, director of membership services for the Suncoast Girl Scout Council.

"She was one of the great heroines of the past. Black kids didn't have Scouting until Mrs. Dominis. It's a shame that it was never recorded," said Holliday, who plans to add Mrs. Dominis' name to the Girl Scouts' history book.

Holliday said she didn't know the extent of the community's feelings toward Mrs. Dominis. "If we'd known what this name meant to them and to Girl Scouting we would have done all we could to support them," she said.

Though the troops will remain combined, all plans to formally change the name are off, Knight said.

"It (the Dominis name) is a part of our history now," Holliday said.