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Speeches and Floor Statements

Dr. Juel Smith

Madam Speaker, I rise today to honor the living legacy of Dr. Juel Smith. Her story starts in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, where she was born and graduated from Sapulpa High School in 1960. She married and became a mother of five children. Tragedy struck her and her family when her husband suddenly passed away, and Dr. Smith became a widow. She realized that pursuing higher education was her best shot for her to secure a better future for her family. Dr. Smith persevered and earned her degree in elementary education in 1972 from Langston University, Oklahoma’s only historically Black college. Dr. Smith relocated to Tampa and received her master’s degree and education specialist degree with a thesis on "Women Who Combine Career and Family," a field of study in which she was personally invested. In 1987, she received her doctorate in counselor education from the University of South Florida (USF).

Always fueled by her faith and perseverance, Dr. Smith has been driven to serve others and find solutions. As a counselor at USF, she started her life’s work helping and guiding students, particularly African American students who could not afford to continue their education. She engaged Tampa’s African American community to “give more, do more and help more” to recruit and retain students. She created the Institute on Black Life in 1986 and the Center for Africa and the Diaspora, with a mission to bridge USF’s resources with the needs of the Black community and Africa as well as provide support for Black students and faculty. The Institute on Black Life produced an annual Black family conference, the campus Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebrations each year and a weekly television show titled “The Bridge.” The Institute also sponsored nationally renowned guest speakers and artists. As a partner with the Urban League, they established an African American advisory board and inner-city office to plan strategies and share problems. Student enrichment programs, scholarships, graduate fellowships, faculty research, community service and fundraising activities resulted. The African center sponsored international faculty research travel to Gabon that resulted in a USF and International Center for Bantu Civilization collaboration. Dr. Smith’s effectiveness in community relations, organizing special campus initiatives and philanthropic fundraising were unmatched at other Florida colleges and universities.

In the early 2000s, motivated by research regarding the desire of professional women to support female students, Dr. Smith and USF leaders launched a vision and plan to establish the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy program. Dr. Smith served as WLP’s founding executive director. The initiative raised an extraordinary amount of money in the first 18 months to create scholarships and programmatic initiatives for women faculty and students. In addition, Dr. Smith became the first African American woman to serve as president of the Tampa Athena Society. She is a trustee of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Inc. and a life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. In addition to her local involvement, she served as international director of The LINKS, Inc., building more than 50 schools in South Africa and Nigeria, and served with President Jimmy Carter on the International Habitat for Humanity Board.

Her beloved husband, Professor John Smith, ensured her living legacy by establishing the Dr. Juel Hickman Shannon Smith Endowed Scholarship. The scholarship is designed to support full-time undergraduate students pursuing a major in Africana studies or elementary education.

Dr. Smith’s legacy of enhancing student, faculty and community opportunities, passionate endeavors that are now part of USF’s fabric, will live on through the students and educators who have more opportunities due to her leadership. Madam Speaker, on behalf of a grateful Tampa Bay community, I am proud to recognize Dr. Juel Smith for her lifelong exemplary service to education, students, women and leaders in education everywhere.