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Black History Month Exhibit Remembers Local Legacy Louise Graham
"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot interfere with what I can do." These words capture the character and attitude of Mrs. Louise Graham who tirelessly devoted herself to working with intellectually challenged and visually impaired youth in St. Petersburg, Fla.
In celebration of Black History Month, Mrs. Graham's legacy will be remembered during the exhibit "Louise Graham (1903-1983): A Life Dedicated to Service in St. Petersburg" which is on display on the second floor of Eckerd's Armacost Library throughout the month of February. The exhibit is supported by the Afro-American Society and the Office for Multicultural Affairs.
In 1952, Louise Graham visited her husband's cousin at American Legion Hospital for Crippled Children (today's All Children's Hospital). When walking into the ward for African-American children, she noticed that none of the children's hair was combed. She then decided to visit the ward every Sunday, to groom the children, and to take them to the recreation area. Subsequent visits followed. A decade later, Mrs. Graham was named the director of the playground recreation program for the handicapped for the St. Petersburg Summer Enrichment Program.
Shortly after attending a talk by Dr. John Presley, then director of Sunland Center at Fort Myers, Mrs. Graham cleared out her garage and started the Louise Graham Shelter Workshop. Her idea was to teach basic skills to mentally and developmentally challenged youth, who would otherwise stay at home, and engage them in a meaningful occupation.
Out of this garage-project evolved the Florence Nightingale Circle, an institution that provided daycare services for mentally, emotionally and disabled individuals. Founded in 1975, this institution exists to the present day.
While Mrs. Graham's work happened in the shadows of the civil rights movement, the obstacles she faced while caring for both black and white intellectually challenged children had less to do with the fact that in the St. Petersburg of the 1950s, African-Americans were still living in segregated neighborhoods. The biggest problem, as Louise Graham saw it, was the lack of compassion for and hence the neglect of individuals with disabilities.
Louise Graham's legacy lives on today. After her death, the Florence Nightingale Circle was renamed Louise Graham Regeneration Center in honor of her work. Located in the Midtown area of south St. Petersburg, the Center provides employment for developmentally disabled adults through the recycling and sale of paper products. Its adult day training program assists participants in learning how to contribute to their own care, work toward and prepare for self-sufficiency, and become more integrated into the community at-large.