Grounded in faith, generations of African American Tampanians are celebrating family.

“The African American family is strong, and they’re very wise,” Jackie Cole said.

“Family means everything to me,” said Jackie’s son, Todd Cole.

Every February, the Association for the Study of African Life and History comes up with a theme for Black History Month. This year’s theme is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”

“For Black people, family has always been the foundation of our culture,” USF professor Cheryl Rodriguez said.

During slavery, Rodriguez said that foundation was rocked to its core with families who were torn apart. After slavery, those families worked hard to find one another again.

“There was an understanding by slave masters that this was a source of strength for Black people,” Rodriguez explained.

Decades later, that strength is what Florence Owens used to raise her own children in a segregated Tampa.

“Growing up, I taught them to stick together, be there for one another,” Owens said.

Now all grown up, Owen’s children have been looking out for her. At 94 years old, Owens can’t get around like she used to. Her daughters, even those from out of state, take turns coming home to make sure she’s okay.

“I love each and every one just as much as I do myself,” Owens said.

The family bond is just as strong for the Cole family.

“Being loved by your family and you loving them, that’s what family is about,” said Anthony Cole.

Through the years, the Coles have become an important part of Tampa. They’ve been instrumental to the progress in the African American community.

“Anytime anybody thinks that they are giving us something, nobody has ever given us anything,” 97-year-old Robert Coles Sr. said.

Robert Cole Sr. has seen inequities throughout his life. He’s been a driving force to try and even the playing field. In 1971, he opened the first minority business at Tampa International Airport with Cole’s Beauty and Barbershop. 

He also helped to found the Tampa Family Health Centers, the 34th Street Business Association, and the Sheriff’s Black Advisory Council.

Robert Cole Sr. said he did all that because the community is also his family. He wanted the entire community to succeed.

“In our black community, we have a tremendous amount of hidden talent,” he said.

That’s why this Black History month, they’re celebrating family in every sense of the word. 

To recognize the importance of your own family, people are encouraged to use this year to get to know their families better and document the stories.