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2023 Village of Wellington/Alpha Alpha Upsilon Omega - Black Leaders Forum

Valentina Palm - Palm Beach Post | Published on 2/11/2023

Gathered at the Black History Month forum in Wellington on Wednesday, February 1, 2023 are (from left) Casssandra Oliver, Brian Oliver, Ava Parker, Joseph Sasnchez, Ricky Wade, Dr. Brain Coleman, Verdenia Baker, Alan Bottorff, Dr. Colette Brown-Graham and Darren Edgecomb. Valentina Palm/ Palm Beach Post

Eleven Black business owners, doctors and community leaders from around Palm Beach County answered these questions for local students Wednesday during Wellington's first Black History Month forum.

Marcia Andrews, the Palm Beach County School Board member for the western communities, and Marcia Hayden, president of the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., in Wellington, hosted the forum.

Here are some of the questions posed to the panel and how the leaders answered them.

Darren Edgecomb: Principal, Palm Beach Central High School 

As a prominent Black male leader. How do you motivate young Black men to refrain from
getting discouraged by stereotypes that have followed them for generations?

Stereotypes are real, said Darren Edgecomb, the principal of Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington.

He spoke about his own struggles during the early stages of his career. Born and raised in Belle Glade, employers always assumed he played football and was a physical education instructor when, in fact, he played trombone in the band and taught math.

“All that does is motivate you,” he said. “That's what it should do.”

Despite having a master's degree in mathematics, he only taught algebra I and II during his first years at Royal Palm Beach High School. He quickly noticed all the teachers and students at that class level were Black, while all the higher-level courses had white teachers and students.

“I didn't see anyone in the class that looked like me,” he said.

Edgecomb spoke with the school's principal and offered to keep teaching algebra but also take on higher-level courses to attract his students into calculus and pre-calculus, and it worked. 

“Stereotype is just a word," Edgecomb said. "It's what decision you make with it.” 

His advice for students: Receive your education, earn a degree
and get into a position where you can make decisions.

Ricky Wade: Owner, 30 McDonald's franchises in South Florida


How did you attain your startup capital?

Ricky Wade had worked for the McDonald’s corporation in Raleigh, North Carolina, for 18 years before he got set on being a franchise owner. He saw an opportnity to buy seven locations in Palm Beach County. But, he said, gathering the money was one of the hardest things of his life. 

He sold his stock, leveraged his house, asked for money from his friends and family and pleaded with local banks until he secured $6 million. Then, the real hard work started: How was he going to pay it all back? 

“Until you're in the frying pan, you don't realize exactly how hot it is,” said Wade, a native of Jamaica.

He spent a lot of sleepless nights, but seeing the stores succeed was his dream. Wade now owns more than 30 McDonald's restaurants in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

“Dream difficult dreams,” Wade said.
“As long as you were disciplined, and you continue to network yourselves, you will be lucky.”

Cassandra Oliver: Owner, K.W.A. Group Branding

What is one of the biggest mistakes you've made along the way in your career?

Cassandra Oliver is a third-career professional. She was first an investment broker, then a teacher. Now she owns a marketing and promotions company with her husband, Brian.

“My biggest mistake was allowing my fear to dictate what I was going to do in each one of those spaces,” said Oliver, who has a Ph.D. in education from Florida Atlantic University.

When she graduated college as a broker, the housing market had just crashed and Oliver found a passion for teaching. She stayed in the classroom for years before daring to apply for an administrative position.

Moving out of her comfort zone, she said, and into her space of fear opened doors for her to pursue administrative positions and later open her own branding and promotional company.

“Fear kept me in spaces that I didn't need to be too long,” she said.
“Figure out that fear and push into it."

Alan Bottorff: Co-founder, Teledactyl

What is your advice to someone who's looking to become a successful business person?

Alan Bottorff co-founded Teledactyl, a health care technology company. He spoke about the importance of searching for their passions and working their life around them to build something meaningful, for themselves and others.

“If you don't have an interest in it, it's going to be more like a job,” he said. “Not to say that it's not going to be worth it, but you want it to be fun.”

Bottorff shared his 5 P's for success:

  • * Passion: To drive your motivation. 
  • * Plan: To approach and stay focused. 
  • * Pivot: Be prepared to pivot: You want to stay flexible. 
  • * Perseverance: To overcome the challenges that you will see. 
  • * Purpose: Make a long-lasting impact on your community.

Verdenia Baker: Palm Beach County administrator

How did you manage the two-party political system with this consistent change every four years?

Verdenia Baker first began working for Palm Beach County in 1987 as a budget analyst. She was selected in 2015 to serve as the county's administrator, overseeing more than 6,000 employees and balancing a $6 billion budget.

Baker said public servants get involved with the government because they want to help all residents, regardless of their political party. For that reason, they need to be "professional, neutral and citizen-focused.“

"Regardless of whether you're Republican, Democrat, independent, you need clean drinking water, you need your toilets to flush, you need your roads, traffic signals to work, parks for your kids,” Baker said. “Our job is to be good stewards of taxpayers' dollars, and to provide the very best service we can provide to our residents.”

Dr. Colette Brown-Graham: Women's health care specialist

What are some tactics you use to ensure employees implement a comfortable setting for female patients?

When Dr. Colette Brown-Graham moved to Wellington 28 years ago, she didn’t find a medical practice that operated how she wanted. So, she opened her own, Complete Healthcare for Women.

Brown-Graham said she prides herself on giving every patient professional services with a human touch. She says it starts with simple things, like having someone pick up her office phone, not an answering machine, and asking each person how they want to be addressed.

“Respect really levels the playing field,” said Brown-Graham.
“It allows for everyone to feel important."

Ava Parker: President, Palm Beach State College

As the leader of the biggest and most successful community college in Palm Beach County,
what implementations are you taking to ensure anyone wishing to pursue furthering
their education is not deterred from doing so?

Ava Parker was named president of Palm Beach State College in 2015. She was first a public defender in Miami-Dade County and had a career in law before serving as the executive vice president and chief operating officer at Florida Polytechnic University.

She said PBSC offers a variety of technical and professional careers in five campuses around the county to ensure education is accessible.

“We have this commitment to ensure that for every resident of our community
who wants to seek a post-high school credential,
they can do so within 20 minutes of their home,” she said.


Dr. Brian Coleman: Orthopedic surgeon

So many children and their parents want them to pursue a career in health care. But as they get older, that passion sometimes fades away. What keeps you on track to be successful in health care?

Brian Coleman is an orthopedic surgeon who operates in Loxahatchee's HCA Palms West Hospital. Before choosing any career, he said, students need to work on finding out who they are and avoid getting pushed by family and friends. He thinks people leave health care when they eventually realize it doesn't fit them.

For Coleman, his passion for healing people keeps him motivated to see patients and keep learning every day.

"Know yourself. Love yourself," Coleman said.
"Understand that it is a commitment that never ever stops."

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