PJI JOURNAL Spring/Summer 2021: A Conversation with Elizabeth Thompson

Monday, February 8, 2021

Elizabeth R. Thompson is the former executive director of the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture in Orlando. In her new role, she is the director of community engagement at the Downtown Campus of Valencia College, located in the historic Parramore Community. We asked Elizabeth a few questions about herself and her new role at the College…

Tell us about your family’s deep commitment to preserving the history of the black community in Central Florida?

My mother once told me, “no one lives any place for free.” I took that literally and figuratively. We pay our “rent” through service to our community. When my parents moved to Orlando in the 70s they made it their intention to be valuable contributors to the Orlando community, specifically the African American community.

A large part of serving the community in which we live is honoring the contributions and history of the community and community contributors that have come before. There are so many people who have contributed to the foundation of Orlando and it is important that we know about their work and how their works have paved a way for opportunities that we enjoy today. As it pertains to African Americans specifically these are often names that are not widely known or celebrated, and my family has always made it a point to celebrate the luminaries who have helped shape the community we enjoy.

Can you tell us a story about your childhood that led you into this work? 

I am proud to say that I am the product of the public school system. As a native of Orlando, my elementary, middle and high school education all took place at Orange County public schools. In that time, African American history was not a large part of the curriculum. It was a priority of my parents and family to supplement the history education of myself and my siblings with regards to African American history.

I am very fortunate that, within my home, I was exposed to books, films, documentaries that bring forward African American history. I am passionate about being able to bring forward those same educational opportunities to those who live, work and visit our area. Knowledge is for everyone and information about our past can help inform decisions we make about our future.

What is something that you know because of your positioning in Parramore that you wish more of us knew?

I wish more people understood the rich, communal history of the Parramore area. Parramore at its foundation was a thriving, healthy, connected community. I wish everyone had more information about the people, business and events that helped make Parramore the heart of the black community that it once was.

I personally believe the strongest asset Parramore brings to Valencia College Downtown are the residents of the area. The Parramore community is made up of passionate, invested, creative, wonderful people who offer invaluable contributions to the Downtown Campus.

What is positive about this new campus in the Parramore/Downtown district?

The Downtown Campus brings so many resources that can benefit the Parramore community specifically. When you think about institutions of higher education, many people automatically think of degree programs, but Valencia College Downtown also brings the opportunity for job training, skills training, certification courses, continuing education courses, personal and professional development courses and a great deal of other learning opportunities. Through some of the programs offered at the Downtown Campus, there is increased opportunity to positively impact job placement, higher wages, and increased choices for the residents of the area.

You bring a great deal of knowledge about the Parramore community to your new position. How do you see that will serve you?

The Parramore Heritage area is undergoing a great deal of change. It is important, as we move forward with development and expansion, that we understand and acknowledge the history and current circumstances of the Parramore community. This information can help Valencia College make the decisions that bring the most positive impact to the residents and stakeholders of the area.

One way to learn more about the rich heritage of the Parramore Community is to visit the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture located at 511 W. South St., Orlando.

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