Women Leaders: Community Engagement in Preservation and Heritage Tourism

Categories: Nonprofits,

Editor’s note: This blogpost was written as a part of Ringling College of Art and Design’s Writing for Storytelling for Social Justice and Community Engagement course, fall semester 2022, led by instructor Sylvia Whitman. Students were paired with nonprofits to learn about their mission and impact, and the post that follows shares the story of Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition.

The project was completed as part of a collaboration with The Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center. Many thanks to Charlene Altenhain and Sarah Glendening, especially, for their coordination of student writers to nonprofit organizations.

“This project has turned my life upside down,” Vickie Oldham says with a huge smile and eyes sparkling.

A former television journalist, Oldham exudes an abundance of energy and excitement while speaking about her work in the Sarasota community. Truly passionate about the community of birth and upbringing, she speaks proudly about leaving a position in broadcasting. A transition into higher education marketing and communication caused a move to Georgia for nearly 10 years. During a holiday break in 2014, Newtown residents mentioned the search for a consultant by City of Sarasota officials. Initially, deliverables to complete entailed compiling a research report, conducting oral history interviews, and producing educational materials. That was Phase 1 of the project. Oldham’s plan was to return to the Peach State.

That’s until she learned that there was a Phase 2 of the preservation project.

City officials awarded Oldham’s team the work, which included designing, manufacturing, and installing historic markers and launching a website and app. “Throughout the process and from the beginning, I saw ways to leverage the information and did.”

A book co-authored by Oldham and cultural anthropologist Dr. Rosalyn Howard and adapted from the 364-page report was published. On marker dedication day, a trolley took guests on a guided tour to each site. Pioneers shared personal stories. The tours developed. Phase 3 of the project unfolded when Oldham’s team, during a Sarasota City Commission meeting, requested seed money to find a location for an African American arts, culture, and history center. Black residents had long talked about a museum to house their artifacts and tell their stories. With a $200,000 city-funded grant, the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition (SAACC) was born.

Oldham serves as president and chief executive officer. SAACC is a nonprofit organization that facilitates the uplifting and amplification of African American history, arts and culture

Vickie Oldham’s journey with SAACC officially began in 2019 when she was selected to lead the groundbreaking project. But her interest in history began at her grandmother’s home, where her mother and aunts left their college books about Harlem Renaissance writers. She read Black Voices: An Anthology of Afro American Literature by Abraham Chapman. An interest in African American history grew stronger in elementary, middle, and high school, and later while hosting a public affairs television show and working at three historically black universities. In her production repertoire are a number of documentary shorts, a podcast series, trolley tours, and a speaker series, and other initiatives are in the works. Through SAACC, the tax exempt, 501c 3 organization led by Oldham, a historic house will be transformed into a hub of cultural activities for Sarasota residents to enjoy.

“Don't we all aspire to create a body of work that outlives us?” Oldham writes on LinkedIn.

A graduate of both the University of Florida and Florida State University, Oldham is a Sarasota native. Having grown up in Newtown, she has now returned to uplift the very same community that has shaped her. Prior to her work with SAACC, she stood out in the industry of broadcasting. She describes herself as “a journalist, media and public relations strategist with proven success in marketing, fundraising and communications for over twenty-five years.”

Often, a leader is seen as someone who delegates and oversees, rather than works in the trenches with the team. Oldham breaks the mold. “My leadership style is more collaborative. I want and I seek input from my team,” she says. “And so I’m constantly asking for their opinion. I work with them and always want to compare my thoughts and my position against my team’s.”

As leadership coach John Maxwell has noted, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” In the context of cultural preservation, community leaders are more important than ever before—and women more visible. In Vickie Oldham, the African American community of Sarasota, and SAACC, has found an excellent leader and spokesperson.

Over the past year, there have been ample opportunities for the Sarasota community to learn a great deal about SAACC’s work. A leader who is excited about her work is an important part of community building. This quality is one of the first characteristics you’ll notice after meeting Oldham. Speaking about the journey that SAACC has embarked on thus far, she can easily convince you that the organization’s future is bright.

When she was brought on in 2015 by the City of Sarasota, Oldham didn’t know that her work back then would progress to such an extent. That initial project turned into what would become Newtown Alive.

The input of Newtown and Sarasota residents at large was important to SAACC. At the genesis of the museum and cultural center initiative, a survey was conducted to ask community members what they wanted to see happen there. A New College of Florida student who is an expert in data analysis put together a report based on the survey results, which was presented to the Sarasota City Commission.

When asked if she thought her work back in 2015 would take her this far, Oldham answers with zeal. “A book is one thing, a brochure is another, but when you talk about brick and mortar… that’s a whole different ball game.”

Oldham never fails to mention the work of others when unpacking her successes. She has worked closely with other leaders, such as award-winning architect Juan Self. The partnership between the two leaders came about as a result of a recommendation from Sarasota architect Jerry Sparkman. Recently, an anonymous philanthropist from Sarasota donated a baby grand piano to Self’s church in Memphis, through SAACC and Oldham. In an interview, Self recounted his history of working on museums for the cultural preservation of African American history. For more than three decades, he has worked on the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Never forgetting to give credit where it is due, Oldham knows, remembers, and acknowledges nearly everyone who has worked with her since 2015. The list includes cultural anthropologist Dr. Howard, “pioneer civil rights activist” Sheila Sanders, Walter Gilbert, and city staffers Rowena Elliott, Stevie Freeman Montes and Camden Mills, who oversees the renovations of the historic Leonard Reid House, home of the new museum.

In 2022, the house was moved from its previous location in the Overtown/Rosemary District to Orange Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Newtown, the birthplace of Sarasota’s rich and extensive civil rights history. Oldham understands her role and responsibility to use her skills for community building and keeping the history of Newtown alive. In putting her previous career on hold to complete the preservation project, she says the sacrifice pales in comparison to those of Black leaders and activists who made Sarasota a better place for everyone.