This week we chat with Denese Meteye-James, a long-time East Tampa community activist. She has been recognized by the local nonprofit Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa and the national nonprofit agency NeighborWorks America for her volunteer work. Ten years ago she began assisting the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership in various roles including board member and chairwoman of the group’s aesthetics and beautification sub-committee. The partnership works with city officials to devise strategies for ending blight and boosting redevelopment in the East Tampa district bordered by Hillsborough Avenue, interstates 275 and 4, and the city limits. She is nominated for a new term on the partnership’s board. During a prior board term Meteye-James led efforts to rename two community “lakes” for area businessmen, Robert L. Cole, Sr. and Herbert D. Carrington, Sr. She helped with efforts to install public art outside Tampa Police District III headquarters on 22nd Street. And she created a tree lighting ceremony held each December to bring neighbors together. The event includes bicycle give-aways to area school children. She is working with Hillsborough County school officials to develop a public arts appreciation program to be taught at Middleton High School.
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school?
Answer: Most of my family and I grew up in Belmont Heights (East Tampa) and attended the local schools. i.e., Potter, Lomax, Booker T. Washington and Young Jr. High. I graduated from Middleton High School (Class of 1969).
Q: What kind of volunteer work appeals to you?
Answer: I enjoy anything that has to do with helping the residents of my community, kids and adults alike.
Q: What makes East Tampa special to you?
Answer: I began working at the Health Department in 1972, in the trailers still standing at the old Lee Davis Clinic on 26th Avenue. I was able to walk to work. Many of the population that we served at that time were residents of the neighborhood and my neighbors and friends. I have seen first hand the transformation from the past to the present and am proud to have had a small part of this process.
Q: Who were your heroes growing up and who do you admire now?
Answer: I did not have a particular hero. However, I really admired the nurses who treated the residents and some of us on staff on an individual basis, helping to educate and instill pride in ourselves. They really cared and had a sense of community. Back then, we, the staff, took ownership in what we did. It was not just a job; we were more like a family who cared for one another.
Q: Are there any goals you want to accomplish in the next year or so?
Answer: My goal is to continue to build on transforming the neighborhoods and to work towards the continued success of my annual Tree Lighting Program. I also want to continue to travel. I had the great pleasure this summer of having my granddaughter, Auja, accompany me to Jamaica and to Germany where we spent time with my other granddaughter, Monisha, who is stationed there. This was really a treat for each of us.
— Kathy Steele