Former Hillsborough County school board member Doretha Edgecomb may be retired but don't expect her to slow down any time soon. In the last month, she's helped H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center launch the George Edgecomb Society, a cancer outreach program targeting the African-American community. It's named after her late husband, Hillsborough County's first black judge who died in 1976 of leukemia.
On Thursday, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA honored her with its 2017 Community Impact Award. And she is among the four women selected by the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida to receive its 2017 Women of Distinction honor at a special event next month.
A Tampa native and graduate of the old Middleton High School, Edgecomb said she's humbled and honored by the accolades but admits she isn't sure how to take it.
"It's kind of scary I'm getting this recognition," she said. "But it's part of some plan."
Edgecomb spent more than three decades in education — first as a teacher and educator in Hillsborough County Public Schools then as a trainer with Educational Testing Service — before retiring in 1996. Eight years later, she entered the political side of education when she made her first run for public office and won a seat on the school board, representing District 5.
A graduate of Talladega College and the University of South Florida, Edgecomb's service to the community includes participation and membership in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., NAACP, the East Tampa Revitalization Committee, and the Athena Society.
After a dozen years in public service, Edgecomb said she's excited to enter the next phase. She recently talked to Tampa Bay Times Correspondent Kenya Woodard about what's ahead, lessons learned, and the charge she's giving to those coming after.
When you announced your decision to not seek reelection, you vowed to continue fighting for those whose voices are unheard. How are you planning to do this?
I'm thinking about doing something with young women. I want them to see themselves as leaders with strong voices. Somehow, (women and girl-focused groups) can come together and do this on a large scale. If we can come together, we can become more impactful.
Donald Trump's election to the presidency has sparked tremendous response from the women's movement, most notably last month's Women's March on Washington. As you prepare to focus your efforts on the advancement and empowerment of young women, what's your take on what's happening?
I think (women) need to show up more than we do. I believe we can make a difference. It doesn't have to be a big thing. It can be a small cause and move from there. I don't think we are a silent voice, just sitting back waiting for something to happen.
Your career in education spans 32 years with stints as a teacher, principal, and administrator and you spent the last 12 years helping shape policy as a board member. How would you sum up your career? Do you have any regrets?
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Honestly, I never dreamed of any of this. I never had this big plan that said "this is what I want to be." It's a natural part of my journey. There wasn't anything that said this was going to happen. But I didn't resist it. I didn't always understand where I was and why I was there. But I knew I was going to give it my all. If I had to do it again, I think about how I could do it better. I wish I had stayed (as principal at Robles) longer. My team and I, we did some amazing things. We did some things that people thought we couldn't do. We could have accomplished more.
But I went to ETS and I got a chance to work with schools throughout the state, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. I got a chance to see how other schools were doing. It was a good learning experience.
Many were shocked when you were passed over as board chairwoman – although you were next in line for the position. Looking back, what are your thoughts about that?
The rumors (regarding changes in the selection of the chair) had been swirling for a while, so I wasn't surprised. For about a year, the relationship (with other board members) was very strained. But I had a bigger job to do. I wasn't going to let not being chosen get in the way of the job I had to do. If you handle things as lessons learned, you come out a better person and (gain) some skills you didn't know you had. You stay focused on why you're there and work above the distractions.
I developed some very positive relationships. And people started to attend the school board meetings, which is a positive.
Tamara Shamburger replaced you, bringing a youthful perspective to the board. What can be done to encourage more young people of color to get involved in public service?
We don't have a formal structure in place to do it. We ought to have some kind of structure for them to shadow us and talk to us about issues. Sitting on that board is just a small portion of what you do as a board member.
As a board member, you were steadfast in your advocacy of the students, people, and schools within the district you represented. How would you like to see that continue?
We've got to take a greater interest, take a greater presence. Our voice has to be heard. Some changes have to be made … significant changes. But we can't leave it to others to do it. Our presence has to be respected, visible, and seen as part of a power structure.
If we don't do it, I don't think we can rely on other people to do it. If it's not done, we only have ourselves to blame.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Kenya Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org.