Mayor Jane Castor, in gray at center, with members of TECO’s PRISM Employee Resource Group. Front row (left to right): Velma Lewis, Christine Vandeyar-Wise, Breanna Johns, Mayor Jane Castor, Becky Hix, Tina Marie Mary, Scott Powers and Edward Cook. Back row (left to right): Kanesha Paul, Aeryn Keslar, Derrick MacDonald, Juan Suarez, Karen Zwolak and Sloan Lewis.
Who better to help TECO celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month than Tampa’s history-making mayor? Jane Castor, the city’s first female police chief and openly gay mayor, delighted TECO Plaza on Friday, Oct. 20, with stories of humor, empathy, encouragement and respect. The lunch ’n learn, from TECO’s PRISM Employee Resource Group, put a funny and poignant spotlight on things that unite all company team members through the unique perspective of a true trailblazer.
“What a great crowd!” Tampa Electric President and CEO Archie Collins admired the room. “It’s great to see so much interest, passion and support for this event. I have so enjoyed our partnership with Mayor Castor; we appreciate everything she’s doing for the good of the community.”
Team members enjoy lunch together before the program.
Manager of Utility Tax Derrick MacDonald kicked off the formal presentation with a safety moment, calling attention to the terrible reality that LGBTQ+ youth as a group are at higher risk of suicide – 45 percent will try and 14 percent will succeed – but there are critically important resources like The Trevor Project that can help.
Next up, as part of his introduction of Mayor Castor, Vice President of Finance Jeff Chronister said, “Everyone in this room can remember a moment when they didn’t feel like they belonged … it’s become normal to have hatred and division. The only way we’re going to overcome that is with love.”
Dictionary definition of great leadership.
Taking the floor, Mayor Castor was warm and personable, sharp and self-effacing. She talked about how her athletic abilities helped open doors to college and how she decided to become a police officer with no prior experience – a decision that resulted in a huge win for both her and her community. That attitude is something she’s proudly worked to pass along to her two adopted sons.
“Never lose sight of the example you can be for a young person in many ways,” she said.
Some other thoughts she shared:
On leadership: “The most important thing in a leader is the team you build around you. Surround yourself with people who can do your job better than you.”
On diversity: “We’re the ones who create prejudice and pass it on to our kids. We are the sum total of our experiences, which is why diversity around the management table is so important.”
An engaged crowd on a Friday, no less.
On law enforcement: “You get to see and do things nobody else can see and do … in prison, it’s not mostly bad people; it’s mostly good people who made a bad decision.”
On kindness: “You can choose to be anything you want; choose to be kind.”
On being a trailblazing police chief: “I didn’t want to be known as the first female chief; I wanted to be known as a good chief.” (She also highlighted a plan at the Tampa Police Department to have 30 percent female officers on staff by 2030.)
Attendees may not have realized just how funny the major can be.
On Tampa: “In Tampa, [its people] are like the last bastion of sanity. It’s such an honor to be mayor, to be part of helping Tampa be what it can be in a thoughtful, inclusive, intentional way. It’s an amazing opportunity.”
On the future of the LGBTQ+ movement: “I hope we move forward. We need to stop with the hateful rhetoric. We need to make sure everyone is free to be themselves. We have to work on acceptance every day.”
As the lunch ’n learn came to a close, Archie and the mayor pointed out they have each other on speed dial – reinforcing the idea that in times of crisis, like severe weather, and in normal times alike, Tampa is fortunate to have such powerful and compassionate partners: strong on their own and yet far stronger together.
A diverse room showing the power of togetherness and acceptance.