A St. Petersburg school principal’s race should not be a shield from criticism | Column
Racial similarity should not mean we turn a blind eye to everything else, writes guest columnist Deveron Gibbons.
The Lakewood High School Marching Spartans perform on First Avenue South in St. Petersburg during the 34th annual MLK Dream Big Parade in 2019.
The Lakewood High School Marching Spartans perform on First Avenue South in St. Petersburg during the 34th annual MLK Dream Big Parade in 2019. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times (2019) ]
Published June 10

Editor’s note: Goliath Davis, former St. Petersburg deputy mayor and supporter of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education of Black Students, has questioned why so many Lakewood High School seniors are not on track to graduate. This column stems from the fallout from that controversy.

Leadership is hard, and it’s awfully easy to play armchair quarterback.

I’ve been reminded of that lately, following some wholly unwarranted criticism of one of the pillars of our community, Goliath Davis. It seems that certain segments of our community are upset with this good and decent man for having the temerity to criticize the performance of a school principal because, in his educated view, she wasn’t getting the job done.

Deveron Gibbons
Deveron Gibbons [ DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times (2017) ]

And why did his criticism come under attack? Because the administrator is Black, and so is a large percentage of the school’s student body. Apparently, these critics believe that the principal’s race should render her immune to criticism, regardless of how effective she is at lifting her students up.

As a Black man, as a civic leader and as a member of the Board of Trustees of Florida’s only predominantly Black public university, I say, “No way!” Racial similarity should not mean we turn a blind eye to everything else — most of all, the education of our children. And we should not turn on those who point out the failures around them.

Goliath Davis has dedicated his life to education. He grew up poor but worked hard to get a good education. St. Petersburg’s first Black police chief and deputy mayor, he transformed underprivileged communities within the city, bringing economic development to neighborhoods that had long been abandoned. Not content with that, he earned his Ph.D. and taught at multiple universities.

He has been a mentor, a leader, an activist and an unflinching advocate for quality education, quality instruction and making sure all students are prepared for the world and the workforce. Davis has long been on the front lines fighting for education in our community. He has dedicated himself to the core belief that education is the key for young people to unlock their potential.

So when he saw shortcomings at Lakewood High, he spoke up — never mind the color of the principal’s skin. Now he is being denounced, as if he was the one failing the children. We cannot allow our attention to be consumed by such a groundless distraction; we need to remain sharply focused on creating and implementing real solutions that will positively impact students in St. Petersburg. Now.

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The reality is that we need more people like Davis to move our community forward. The best days are still ahead of us, and the best way to get there is quality instruction and quality education. Davis knows this far better than most, and his judgment should be our guide, not a point for misplaced criticism.

I am reminded of the oft-quoted observation of Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”

Davis has been in the arena, and he has sweated and bled and so much more to lift up so many in our community. We should listen to what he says, and let the armchair quarterbacks slink back to the shadows where they belong.

Deveron Gibbons is a developer, community activist, former mayoral candidate and longtime St. Petersburg College trustee, who was recently added to the Florida A&M University’s board of trustees. He retired as Amscot’s vice president of public affairs and lives in St. Petersburg with his family.