HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Doretha Edgecomb stepped down from the Hillsborough County School Board more than five years ago, but she remains extremely active these days, most prominently in following the developments with the Children’s Board Family Resource Center in Temple Terrace, which was named in her honor in 2020.

“I think that this place really reflects what my whole life’s goal was — to do good for kids,” she said while spending time with Spectrum Bay News 9 at the center located on E. Fowler Avenue.

What You Need To Know

  • Doretha Edgecomb worked as an educator in Hillsborough County for several decades

  • She served on the Hillsborough County School Board from 2004-2016

  • The Dorothea Wynn Edgecomb Children’s Board Family Resource Center in Temple Terrace was named for her in 2020

Edgecomb said that she wants the facility to provide the same kind of educational experiences that her daughter Allison received, to every child who enters the school district.

“It’s really about embracing families and encouraging them,” said Edgecomb, who served for more than five decades in education in Hillsborough County.

She worked as a reading teacher, learning specialist, Title I Parent involvement coordinator, and principal at Robles Elementary School.

Edgecomb spoke proudly about her five years at Robles, which at the time was labeled a “failing” school.

“It was the biggest challenge of my life, but it was also the most rewarding,” she said.

Edgecomb said that she was able to change the climate there by communicating with students in every class in the school — as well as going door-to-door to speak with parents.

“Our scores went up," she said. "We got off that list, and that was a real testimony to hard work. Getting kids and teachers to buy into your dream for them."

Edgecomb, 78, is a Tampa native who grew up in Belmont Heights (which she says now is simply known as East Tampa) when it was still very segregated. She recalled the stark racism that existed when she would see separate water fountains when going downtown and being aware of where Blacks could and could not eat in certain establishments.

However, she was quick to note that she was surrounded by people who offered a level of protection to all of the “harshness” that existed.

“I called it ‘the village,’” she said. “Outside of that there was this harsh world, but in the neighborhood, you didn’t feel that.” 

As far as the strides race relations have, or have not, made in her time, Edgecomb said that the country should not just be, now in 2022, celebrating the fact that the first Black female woman — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — will likely be confirmed soon to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re still talking about achievements as the first group for people that have been here for ages, and we’re still not achieving like we should and could,” she said.

When asked if she sees progress since the days when she was involved in the civil rights movement while attending college in Alabama in the early 1960s, Edgecomb said that she feels Florida, and the country as a whole, are in some ways going backwards.

She pointed specifically to recently passed election reform bills in Tallahassee that critics say will restrict voter access.

“I’m not too optimistic,” she said.

A former member of the Hillsborough County School District for 12 years, from 2004-2016, she has observed the intense battles that have taken place in school board meetings over the past couple of years during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the vitriol that has been expressed by parents and other members of the public at those meetings to board members is “unbelievable,” she said.

“Everybody’s talking about personal rights, and they don’t see that their personal rights don’t infringe upon and destroy the good of the whole country,” she said.

Edgecomb said there was noticeable tension on the school board during her last term. That was when she was on the losing side of a vote to decide the future of then-Superintendent MaryEllen Elia back in Jan. 2015.

In the fall of 2015, the same four board members who ousted Elia came back and denied Edgecomb the role of chair. That was considered a rebuke, since Edgecomb was serving as vice chair, and as the Tampa Bay Times reported, the board had rotated the position of chair, giving it to the previous year’s vice chair, for more than 20 years.  

Edgecomb said she was “shocked by the behavior” of her colleagues, but realized that the decision was out of her hands.

“So you just take it,” she said. “Grow from it, practice your resiliency.”

She added that she believes the controversies negatively affected her mother, who was 100 at the time and died in March 2016.

“We talked about it a little bit, and I think that she was more concerned about how I was reacting to it," Edgecomb said. "But I think that it affected her in some ways, absolutely.”

Edgecomb remains firmly rooted in working to improve things right now and not dwelling on the past. She recently appeared as a guest on the "Best Fan Friday” edition of The Today Show and was awarded a $500 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble, which she intends to use in part to stock up the library at the Resource Center named after her.

And she said that while she’s honored and humbled by all of the accolades that have come her way in recent years, she never expected it.

“When I think about it, nothing I’ve ever done I did with some expectation that I was going to be recognized or that something was going to be named after me,” she said. “You talk about expecting it? Absolutely not.”