Alvin Taylor recognized during Black History Month

Bradenton Herald – Alvin Taylor is one of those men you don’t forget.

Born and raised in Palmetto, the 69-year-old is a man with an honest smile and simple ambitions — to help and influence others.

It is what he has devoted his life to.

So it’s no wonder Taylor is one of 20 men being honored at the third annual “Real Fathers, Real Sons, Real Men: Continuing the Dream” event in celebration of Black History Month. It gives praise to everyday, ordinary black men who have made significant contributions throughout the state. The event, hosted by the Florida Department of Children and Families, will be held Feb. 26 at the Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University in Tallahassee. Taylor resides in the city part time for work.

Even with all he’s accomplished in his varied career — working for the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services to his current job as director of Human Resources for Gulf Coast Health Care — Taylor’s surprised at the honor.

“I don’t know how I got to be on that,” he said. “But I’m humbled. I’m blessed. There’s some people that they’re honoring that have done a lot of good work for people. I’m looking forward to it.”

Taylor’s roots run deep in Manatee County. It’s the place where he grew up as the youngest child in a family of 17 children. It’s the place where he spent 12 years fatherless, only to be adopted by his stepfather, Lewis Taylor, in 1944 when his mother, Angeline, remarried. It’s the place where he learned how to be a man and how to treat a lady. It’s also the place where he built his first home with his wife, Jean, who died 10 years ago.

He hasn’t dared part with that small, white house because it’s in a hometown he has always treasured — filled with memories of daughters, sons, nieces, nephews and other family members he holds dear.

Life here, he said, has been beautiful.

“This is home,” said Taylor. “Everybody here knows us.”

Two of the most important lessons Taylor learned from his stepfather were the importance of hard work and treating people like you want to be treated. His stepdad not only talked the talk, but walked the walk — from the household to the neighborhood church.

“He was a true Christian,” he said.

Religion has been a big part of the Taylor clan, which includes his family of two daughters and two adoptive sons — he promised a neighbor before she died that he would take care of her two boys. Taylor believes God is the secret to what has given him success in life.

If you were to doubt that, Taylor would be quick to tell you the story of how he received a full scholarship out of the blue from six ladies from Bradenton’s First Presbyterian Church. It was a week after the Lincoln Memorial High School graduate learned that an injury would prevent him from playing college football, which washed the football scholarship he was awarded from Florida A&M University down the drain. He was called to the principal’s office to meet six women from the church, who were looking to give the unexpected gift of education.

Why unexpected?

Back then, Taylor’s school was predominately black; the church was predominately white.

“I’m talking about 1959,” Taylor said. “The racial issue was hot here.”

Taylor, ever gracious, took the gift, which put him through four years at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he earned a sociology degree. While there, the women brought him his first pair of glasses and sent care-packages monthly. He fulfilled their only request: to make them proud.

“They were just nice ladies,” he said.

He attended college during the climax of the civil rights movement in Alabama. In 1963, at Tuscaloosa’s University of Alabama, Gov. George Wallace infamously blocked the doorway of the school in an attempt to keep two black students from enrolling.

‘Grace of God’

Taylor, who would go on to be the first black person appointed to every position he obtained in his career, said it was by the grace of God that he was afforded the opportunity to go to college.

Of Taylor’s various jobs, the most memorable was his time serving as a counselor at the Manatee County Juvenile Court. One of his favorite colleagues was Michael Saunders.

Saunders said the experience of working alongside Taylor was inspirational. And she wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

“Alvin’s lifelong commitment of making a difference on so many different levels touched and inspired so many,” Saunders said. “Alvin’s sense of humor in the most difficult of situations — and believe me we had many difficult cases involving children’s families — taught me a lifelong lesson as we worked together in our joint responsibilities for the Manatee County Juvenile Court.”

Taylor later became chief counselor before being promoted to supervisor for the HRS Division of Youth Services, where he was in charge of 10 counties. It was a rewarding venture, he said.

After that, he was promoted to District 8 administrator for the Fort Myers area and then moved to Tallahassee to become District 2 administrator for 14 north Florida counties. He was promoted to Assistant Secretary for Operations at HRS headquarters, then later to deputy secretary. After two years, Gov. Bob Graham appointed him HRS secretary. In 1982, he left HRS to work for a retirement and nursing home company.

Saying thanks

Many of the youth he helped through the agency, now grown, fondly remember him today. In fact, one of them passed by his house this week to said “hello” as Taylor was taking out the garbage.

“He wanted to tell me that he got a house down here somewhere now and he has three kids,” said Taylor. “He wanted his kids to come see me. I liked that. That made me feel good.”

Watching youths today, Taylor said kids aren’t like they used to be. Neither is society or the family unit, which attributes to some of the problems today. But troubled environments or family situations shouldn’t stop youths from becoming successful citizens of society.

Anybody can be somebody, it just takes hard work, he said.

“I didn’t have a daddy for years,” said Taylor. “But I had a very strong support system.”

He’s carried that system of love and support to his own family. His youngest daughter, Angeline, who works as a journalist in Tallahassee, said it has been a tremendous blessing to have her father in her life.

From the simple things he does, such as waking up at 5 a.m. singing gospel tunes, to being the fatherly figure during the tough decisions of life — it’s impacted her.

Angeline said she couldn’t imagine life without him.

He was a miracle baby.

“He never should have made it,” Angeline said of her dad, who weighed only a pound when he was born. His twin sister, born a day before, died at birth. “I think because he was such a blessing (to be able to live) that he is just crazy about blessing others.”

With his 70th birthday approaching this summer, Taylor is still going strong. Every once in a while, when he gets the chance, he’ll grab his rod and reel and find a spot along the Manatee River to fish — one of his favorite hobbies.

He loves his job even more though, which is why he doesn’t see himself retiring soon.

“I’m blessed to be able to sit here today in my hometown and look back over my life and say there have been some good people who have guided me through,” he said.

published Feb. 19, 2010

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