Black History Month at Pace Center in Gainesville Ends with Leadership Discussion

March 02, 2024

Encouraging students to become leaders was the focus of a panel discussion at Pace Center for Girls Alachua.

“I know the panelists personally and professionally,” said Carlonda McTier, who moderated the event and is a science teacher at the center. “I look up to them. I aspire to be half as good as they are.”

She hopes the panel discussion motivates the girls at the center to embrace their roles as leaders, McTier said.

“I hope they are inspired,” McTier said. “I want them to take away that they are already leaders and that they don’t need a title.”

The “HERstory in the Making: A Women’s Empowerment Panel” discussion was held Thursday, the last day of Black History Month, at the center in southeast Gainesville. The panel featured Virginia Grant, founder and CEO of Gainesville Black Professionals Natalya Bannister Roby, Ph. D, CEO of Episcopal Children’s Services and Nina Grayson, founder and president of Girls Can Do It, Too.

Anthony J. Pierce, the community engagement manager at the center, created the panel discussion to highlight women of color who are making a difference in their communities and wanted the discussion to inspire students to do the same.

The center offers counseling and individualized education to girls from age 11 to 18, who are mostly from backgrounds of substance abuse, prior arrests, emotional health concerns, foster homes and have experienced some form of trauma.

“What you do today impacts your tomorrow,” Pierce said. “I wanted them to know that they can make history based on what they’re intentionally doing. They were able to see the collaboration with other women and learned whatever role they choose is a leadership role.”

Bannister Roby became the first woman of color CEO of Episcopal Children’s Services in January. She previously worked as executive director of Pace Center for Girls Alachua, senior director of operations for Pace centers throughout the state of Florida, and in leadership roles at the Boys & Girls Club of Alachua County at Woodland Park in southeast Gainesville.

“Being a leader is less about me and more about service,” Bannister Roby said. “I do this for the people coming behind me.”

It is important to embrace who you are to be an effective leader, Bannister Roby said.

“Our differences are our superpowers,” she said. “Be yourself so you can be a trailblazer for others. Everyone here is a leader in their own space. It’s not about a title, it’s what you do with your influence. If you've been through challenges, it does not count you out.”

Her motto is “Leading with love,” and it helps everyone to operate at their fullest potential, Bannister Roby said.

“Leading with love takes accountability so we can walk away with dignity and self-respect,” she said. “You are able to sit down and listen to where they are coming from. Remember you are a leader with a title. Don’t go after a role. Go after a mission. Make sure you love it so it’s authentic.”

Grayson founded Girls Can Do It, Too, a non-profit helping to break the chains of trauma for girls and young women.

“God gave me the vision and I want to support girls who have been through what I went through,” Grayson said. “I wanted to make sure they have a safe space to heal.”

Grayson learned on her journey that being authentic helps others to be themselves more.

“I thought to be a leader, I had to act a certain way,” Grayson said. “I found out I was hurting them if I wasn’t being myself. Other people’s purpose is attached to your purpose. Make sure whoever you’re working with feels motivated to do better.”

Grant has grown GBP to be one of the largest networks of Black professionals in north central Florida.

“I put those around me in front,” Grant said, describing her leadership style. “I don’t have to be making all of the decisions. We can collaborate. Even though I have the title, their position is just as important. I want strong and empowered people ready to accomplish the task as I am.”

Grant encouraged the young girls to believe that they are already leaders and to start embracing the work.

“You are a leader because you can influence your peers and encourage them,” Grant said. “You have already arrived. You just have to own it. Stop aspiring and start doing. Start being the boss that you think we are. Every role you sit in, you should lead from that space.”