by Amy Keller
Updated 3 yearss ago
Photo by Daniel Portnoy
I made very good grades, and I was an athlete -- mostly basketball and track and field. During those days, women's sports did not have the kind of atmosphere that it has now. It was pretty much frowned upon outside of African-American universities.
They called me 'Tot' because I was very, very small.
We weren't even pretty much welcome in the state House in Tallahassee in those days. We were riding in the back of the bus. We couldn't try on a hat or clothes in any of the stores. Everything was all segregated even though we spoke out and marched.
(My mother) really stressed education, and we were very poor, but she really stressed it. She was a maid, a cook, everything that she could do, and my father used to do labor. He was a common laborer. So we just learned that we had to work hard for whatever we got.
When I first left Florida A&M, I taught at Bethune-Cookman College as the head of the physical education department, and I worked there and worked very hard, met my husband there, married and had two children there.
The very best thing I've ever done was to be a teacher. It was a great part of my calling. I did everything I could to inspire and motivate my students. Many of them were poor, you know.
I wanted to go and get my master's from a Florida university, but at that time, by Florida statute, African-Americans were not allowed.
I used to help my mother carry laundry to FSU -- it was called Florida State College for Women -- and I really wanted to go there. They had a very good athletic program during those days, and it was something I aspired to do, but, no, I couldn't get in there. As a matter of fact, I knew not even to try, but we all tried, but we weren't admitted.
I've been married twice and loved both of my husbands, enjoyed being married. But I was a career woman, it appears, when I look back at it and assess it now, because one of the complaints that my husbands had is that, 'You don't stay home enough. You're always busy. You're always doing something.' And it was like dribbling -- I wanted to be the best at whatever I did. In fact, I think I could have been a better wife had I spent more time as a housewife.
I've been active. I was a gym teacher all those years. I had good abdominals, my doctor said, when I had those three babies.
I came to Miami in 1961. I got this job, and Miami Dade College was segregated at that time, but it didn't stay there but one year because we led -- I led -- so many revolts against the college because of the separate, which they thought was equal, but it was not.
When I came to Miami-Dade, that's when the political thing really opened up to me. That's when I could see the needs of people who live in an urban environment.
I was very involved in the Haitian migration to Miami. I remember in 1979, we pushed President Carter for amnesty for Haitians, and I became very, very active in the fight for Haitian justice and having them accepted over here.
The leaders in the black community didn't think I could win because I never had run for office, and there were others who had run, but I think what they didn't realize that I had been teaching college students all those years, which meant I had a constituency already, so I got elected. I ran against 10 other people, and I won. I brag about that to this day.
I got very interested in women being in politics, and I've tried my best to inspire them because it's a really good career for a woman because she's had the attunement of having children. She knows what the social things are, and women don't mind working.
(U.S. Rep.) Clay Shaw said I'm a brick in a sock. I'm very soft in my approach, but once I get involved with you, now I'm ready to fight.
My son (U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek), he's very good. He was one of the first ones to ask Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. I almost fell out of my chair.
I have a daughter who works for Miami-Dade, and she's an attorney. She's an equal opportunity director for Miami- Dade County. I have a daughter who runs a theater on 42nd Street in New York, and Kendrick, the one who followed my footsteps, he went beyond me.
I focused a lot of attention on minorities and underserved people and was pretty much known for that, not being the only one, but being one who was always interested in underserved people. They come in all categories, all races, colors and creeds, and to me they've been my first priority, those who need help from government.
When I was in college, I did what we call modern dance, sort of like interpretive dance. But I like to dance. I like Latin American dancing. I used to teach that, so I'm not a hip-hop person, but I can do all of the social dances. All of them. I've been known to shake a leg.