Irma Hunter Wesley Child Development Center will be gone if YMCA has its way
Monday, July 31, 2017 was a sad day for me. It was the last day for the Irma Hunter Wesley Day Center. Even with this being the last day of school, and it was a Monday, children were there. I sat and kind of reminisced about my connection with the school. I am looking at pictures on the wall, our first Tom Thumb wedding where little Kierra was the first bride. We used these activities as our first fundraiser. There are many pictures on the wall as a reminder of all the good times that have taken place here.
My connection with the school began in November of 1973. My husband and I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1972. We were transplants from Daytona Beach and Pensacola Fla. My husband had graduated from Bethune-Cookman College, after his tour of duty in the US Army and serving in Vietnam.
My connection with the school began in November 1973, after my daughter Antonia Jenae’ was born in March 1973, I had found a home care person to keep my baby. I was working as a nurse at BARC – Broward Alcoholism Rehabilitation Center. This particular day we were short on clients so I was able to leave early. I went to the home where the lady was keeping my child. While knocking at the door no one was answering. The lady’s van was not there. However, the lady’s daughter was across the street talking with a friend. When she looked up and she saw me, she said just a minute and she ran in the back door and opened the front door. I asked where is your mother. “She’s gone to pick up the kids at the school,” she replied. I started gathering up my baby’s stuff and told her to have her mother call me. I knew my baby would not be returning. I was really upset.
When I got home I called my job and told them I would not be in the next day as I had to find a place for my daughter.
So the saga began. Not knowing anyone who could refer me to someone, we got in the car with the telephone book and we started riding. I found Sixth Street (Sistrunk Blvd.) at the old Provident Hospital, walked in and what I saw was wonderful, somehow I knew this was the place. The center was run by Mrs. Wesley, a beautiful friendly lady whom I fell in love with immediately. I knew this was the place. There was a room that had playground equipment in it. She told me the history of Dr. Sistrunk, the history of the hospital where the only place Black people were only allowed to go.
My daughter Antonia was nine months old when she started that day; she is now 44-years-old. My son Levoyd Keith was born in March 1976 and at six weeks he began to go there also. They attended the school until a special program began and Antonia had to go to another school. My son had allergies and the only food he was allowed to eat was beef, rice and green beans. I started preparing his food to take for him daily, but Mr. Wesley told me no. We will prepare his meals. So every day they made his baby food and grinded it up for him.
I recalled the first time we participated with the Sistrunk Festival on the street. I remember we raised funds for the school by selling food items. I have a picture of a beautiful red Candy Apple I made; it was in the Sun Sentinel Newspaper. That was my first time participating in a street festival ever and I have been hooked ever since.
Mrs. Wesley has taken care of thousands of children from that center over the years. The kids were not just cared for, they were educated; they were taught the basics of reading, colors and counting. She allowed hundreds of mothers and employees time to get their certificates to be able to become certified in child care or other jobs, or those who did not have a diploma to attend classes. She kept their children, allowing parents to do this and prepared meals in the evening free of charge.
She made real mothers out of teenagers. The children were never served fast food, from day one. I recall only two cooks that have been employed there
for all these years. All meals were cooked from scratch.
In 1978, we were told that the hospital was going to be demolished and placed in another building. The school had to move and Mrs. Wesley found Bishop Grissett’s Church in Fort Lauderdale and he allowed the center to move there. That was a big deal. Moving a school to another facility was stressful, but Mrs. Wesley and her staff did it. They moved 132 kids to that building and stayed there for three years.
On April 1st, 1981, they moved back to a brand new school back the newly named building the “Mizell Center”.
“This is the first time that Black kids finally had the best,” stated Mrs. Wesley. Mrs. Wesley worked with the architect to design the building. The design was used by other centers. Dr. Marilyn Segal from Nova University worked with the kids weekly; some of the kids were included in a booklet that she designed.
I have served as Board President for several years and was actually there to see all the good work that was done to make sure our kids got the best education.
When I got the news that the city wanted to tear down the Mizell Center to put in another facility, I was truly dis-appointed. My first thought was not again. I recall the number of people who met and used the building: The Mizell Library, The NAACP, OIC, The Greek Letter Organizations, Day care graduations. It was truly up-setting to know that we were again losing out.
There was no way that Irma Hunter Wesley could exist again. Of course, an offer to relocate with the city’s assistance was made if we wanted to continue, but that was too much of an undertaking as all of the employees were truly not able to do what was done to move the first time. The Staff was always happy with Mrs. Wesley. Some are still there after all of these years the school has been opened. There never was a big turnover.
Yes, I am sad about the school. Yes, it’s hard for me to speak about the school without tearing up. Mrs. Wesley is someone I chose to implement in my life. Yes. I will go and look at the building that is proposed to be demolished again. Yes, I will cry again. However, you can demolish the building but the memories that I have of Mrs. Wesley, the staff, the students and Sistrunk Blvd. can never be removed from my Mind and my Heart.
Thank you Mrs. Wesley and staff for a” Job Well Done”!
Commissioner Beverly Williams