Clearwater coalition emerges as key voice for challenged neighborhoods

What might be perceived as roadblocks to some can yield resourceful detours for others. This philosophy drives the members of the Clearwater Urban Leadership Coalition (CULC). Less than a year old, the coalition of nonprofits, businesses, residents, and civic leaders collaborates to address decades’ old challenges in some of the most financially depressed areas of Clearwater. 

In response to Pinellas County initiatives involving data on persistent quality-of-life disparities in Clearwater, the self-governed coalition prioritizes Community Redevelopment Areas (CRAs) along north and south Greenwood with the intention of providing business opportunities, preserving cultural history, and improving education. 

Coalition co-Founder and Executive Director Gloria Campbell says she’s been driven to provide community outreach for the past couple of decades. The recipient of a 2016 CRA grant to renovate an office building on 22nd Street South -- now home to her business, Advantage Insurance Solutions -- the Dunedin resident, mother, and grandmother has recently set her sights on uniting groups and individuals in Clearwater to uplift the North Greenwood area. 

“I spent most of my career in corporate America working with different companies, and I came away understanding the importance of strategic planning and marketing,” Campbell says. “Now I'm putting those things that I've learned and that have benefited me in my career towards helping people and the community.” 

How it all coalesced

The Clearwater collaborative emerged in October 2019 as a joint effort.

“Five members came together to dialogue about forming the coalition,” Campbell says. “Marilyn Turman, our Director of Communications, initiated the ideas. She contacted members and coordinated our first meetings.” 

The core group consists of Turman and Campbell, and also Jai Hinson, Madre Bell, and Muhammad Rahim. “We now have approximately 20 individuals that are a part of the Steering Committee and over 40 people and 23 organizations that are a part of our community outreach and monthly meetings,” Campbell adds.

Also notable, the group continues to work overtime, persisting amidst the logistical challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses provide services or products to people in need in the community and within the organization. For instance, coalition member Signature Graphics provides printing and COVID-19 masks with the company’s logo, which helps boost the business during trying times and prevents the spread of disease. 

“It’s definitely a win-win,” Campbell says. “We are making sure that we stay safe, but also that her business grows.” 

Spreading awareness and finding solutions

The Clearwater Urban Leadership Coalition has continued its efforts in the virtual sphere to help educate members of the community.
In line with the organization's objectives of helping provide development, health, self-sufficiency, literacy, education, and resilience solutions for north and south Greenwood and beyond, the coalition empowers citizens with knowledge about programs and resources they may not otherwise know about or trust. 

In July, Dustin Chase of the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office, a former broadcast journalist, led a Zoom workshop on voting rights and helped clear up misunderstandings around voting-by-mail and other concerns. They’ve also educated the public on Habitat for Humanity housing opportunities. Campbell says some citizens even expressed concern that their homes could be taken away after joining the program, so the coalition brought in representatives to clear up such misconceptions.

“There's no hierarchy,” Campbell says of the coalition. “There's nobody who's more important or over anybody else. We all are just here to improve the community.”

The coalition comprises nonprofits along with various fraternal organizations, women’s groups, and small businesses. Turman, who says her core purpose is to promote equality and educate people working two or three jobs about options they may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. She also conveys the urgency of having a say in your community and being involved.”  

“You know what they say -- if you don’t have a seat at the table, you might find yourself on the menu,” Turman says, adding that the Coalition is a community that has come together with a village mentality. “It doesn't just matter if everything is good between my four walls, but if it isn’t in my neighbor’s house, I can't be comfortable with that. It’s not about giving a ‘handout.' Some people just haven’t gotten the same start in the race of life.”

How to connect

This month, the coalition will be hosting “Conversations 4 Change,” a series of workshops to help educate residents, focusing on the upcoming reopening of public schools. Pinellas County School Board member Nicole Carr is leading Zoom meetups, including tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 11) at 6:30 p.m. Visit the CULC organization’s Facebook page for details and updates.

General Coalition meetings are held on the 4th Tuesday of each month and until further notice they will all be held on the Zoom platform. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 25, at 6:30 p.m. To get the URL or find out more about the Clearwater Urban Leadership Coalition, visit the coalition’s Facebook page or e-mail Marilyn Turman.

Similar coalitions are galvanizing the resources of businesses and nonprofits as well as individuals across the nation. Michaela Nee writes extensively about the coalition approach to enacting urban solutions in her University of San Francisco 2019 report, “Pooling Power: Engaging Nonprofits in Coalitions for Social Change.” 

“Coalitions offer the opportunity for organizations and individuals to collaborate, coordinate activities aimed towards the same goals, network and build relationships, and share their resources and knowledge,” Nee writes, adding that “individuals are stronger together when their voices are unified and advocating for the same message of change, and the coordination of the numerous voices and activities of a movement will lead to bigger impact and recognition.”
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.