MAXWELL: Someone to look up to

1/17/2008 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

Ordinarily, the construction of a house doesn’t attract much attention and, for sure, doesn’t make the news. This isn’t the case with the minimansion Deveron Gibbons is building on 18th Avenue S in Cromwell Heights, a crime hot spot in Midtown.
Along with many other people who have reason to be on 18th Avenue S, I’ve been watching the house go up since I moved back to St. Petersburg more than a year ago.
And I’ve wondered about the sanity of a person who would build such an expensive family dwelling here. The value of the house will be in the basement the second it is completed because surrounding property values are low and the area has a notorious reputation.
Not being specific, Gibbons told St. Petersburg Times reporter Cristina Silva that he’s already invested between $500,000 and $800,000 into his 7,000-square-foot bachelor pad, which has five bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Why is Gibbons, a board member of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and St. Petersburg College, vice president of public affairs for Amscot Financial in Tampa and assistant to the mayor, building here?
Obviously, with his money, smarts and connections, he could have built in a gated community far from Midtown.
“Kids need to see people who aren’t athletes or who aren’t doing bad things in the neighborhood who are successful,” he told the Times. “You want those kids to say ‘I can live in this neighborhood and have a nice home.’ This is where I grew up. People who influenced me lived in this neighborhood. This is about giving back to the community. It’s about doing the right thing.”
At first blush, Gibbons seems too good to be true. But he’s doing what many local blacks wish they could do: earnestly trying to make a positive difference in the lives of young black people in Midtown. And to his credit, Gibbons is unafraid to speak frankly about the serious problems in the area where he was born and reared.
Over the years, I’ve heard many local blacks talk a good game, but their good deeds are few to none. Gibbons is a role model already. Often when I’ve slowed or stopped to check out the progress on the house, I’ve seen groups of young blacks standing on the sidewalk admiring the property.
I have no way of knowing if Gibbons’ example will make the kind of difference he wants, but I do know that drug dealers, other criminals and hip-hop thugs and wanna-bes are role models for too many young black males in Midtown.
You can drive along many streets and see little children observing drug deals going down. Minutes later, these same children see the same dealers sporting fancy cars and showing off wads of money. For some of these children, dealing drugs is a way of life to emulate.
Gibbons says he wants to change this ugly reality.
In addition to being a black man who succeeded legitimately in business, he’s is a black man of academic success, having earned a bachelor’s degree in international politics from the University of Florida.
On many occasions, I’ve seen Gibbons in different parts of Midtown talking with young people. I had no idea who he was until I read about him in the Times. Looking back, I see now that he’s “doing the right” and “giving back” in personal in ways that really matter to young people who have little if any respect for the adults in their communities.
I said that I wondered about the sanity of a person who would build an expensive house in Midtown, especially on 18th Avenue. I now wonder about people who discount Gibbons’ courage and desire to make a positive difference.
He’s a role model if I’ve ever seen one.