Longtime community activist and Coconut Grove Arts Festival board member Thelma Gibson was presented with the Helen Miller “I Am Blessed” Award during the recent Dade Days celebration in Tallahassee. Ms. Gibson is a native Miamian and the widow of the late Rev. Canon Theodore Roosevelt Gibson.
The award, which recognizes individuals for their exemplary public and community service, bears the name of Helen Miller, the first African-American female mayor in Florida. In the late 1970s, Ms. Miller began a 20-year career of political serve to the citizens of Miami-Dade County and the City of Opa-Locka.
For more than 50 years, Ms. Gibson has been a trailblazer in education, mental and physical health, community and professional leadership, volunteerism and service to her church, community and family. In August 1997, she was appointed as interim city commissioner and served on the City of Miami Commission through November 1997.
Ms. Gibson is president emeritus of the Theodore Roosevelt Gibson Memorial Fund Inc., founder of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Dade County, board member on “GUTS” (Grovites United to Survive), “BIDCO” (Black Investors of Dade County), United Home Care Services, Women’s Guild University of Miami, a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., and Charter Member Nu Chapter Chi Eta Phi Sorority Inc. (National Nursing Society).
She attended Coconut Grove Training School for Colored Elementary School, Coconut Grove Junior High School, and George Washington Carver High School, from which she graduated in February 1944. After graduation, Ms. Gibson attended Saint Agnes School of Nursing at Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, NC and graduated in August 1947, as a registered nurse with a specialty in operating room techniques.
She then returned home with hopes of working at Jackson Memorial Hospital in the operating room where she had been approved for a position. However, upon realizing that she was of color, the alternative was to work on the “Colored” wards. Her professional nursing career spanned 30 years.
Ms. Gibson has received many honors, awards, recognitions, and certificates. She counts her membership as a founder at the Jewish Home for the Aged, among one of the highest, as this honor resulted from the generosity of Judge Irving and Mrs. Hazel Cypen.
Additional honors include: the Silver Medallion awarded by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), Jewish Home and Hospital Women’s Auxiliary Sacred Heart Award, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Drum Major for Justice Award, Jackson Memorial Hospital Image Committee Award, Community Service Award by the Florida International Press Club and the Concerned Citizens Award from the Health Foundation of South Florida.
In 2000, she released her autobiography, Forbearance, Thelma Vernell Anderson Gibson, The Life Story of A Cocoanut Grove Native. Ms. Gibson also sponsors the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative, housed at the Theodore R. Gibson Building that provides free testing and assistance for HIV and AIDS infected persons. Her latest project is the Theodore and Thelma School of the Performing Arts located on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove where the students receive academics with a focus on the Arts.
The Coconut Grove Arts and Historical Association is a non-profit that helps to fund year-round arts programs. The association also maintains the Coconut Grove Arts Festival Gallery and presents special exhibitions throughout the year from its location at the Shoppes at Mayfair. Since its inception in 1963, the association has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships to students who attend fine arts programs in local schools.
For more information on the Coconut Grove Arts and Historical Association, visit online at <www.CGAF.com>.