Social Justice Game Changer: Elizabeth Thompson

by Josh Cohen

Name: Elizabeth Thompson

Game Honored: Orlando Magic vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5/1/21)

Right across from the Amway Center at 511 W South Street is a place of historical significance. It’s the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture, formerly a hotel during the segregation era that now houses memorabilia of Orlando’s African-American community, African art and artifacts, and Civil Rights Movement displays.

Built in 1921 by Dr. William M. Wells, a prominent African-American physician, the hotel provided lodging to African Americans during a period when they were denied accommodations at other Central Florida hotels. Many musicians who performed at the South Street Casino, which was next door and was also built by Wells, stayed at the hotel, including Ray Charles, B.B. King, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Other artists, activists and athletes, including Jackie Robinson, also visited there. In February 2000, the Wells’ Built Hotel was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

A museum now for 20-plus years, visitors can learn all about Orlando’s African-American heritage. A tour inside offers inspiration as well, says Elizabeth Thompson, an Orlando native whose mother, Florida House of Representatives member Geraldine Thompson, founded the museum.

“By learning and understanding people who have overcome things, it might better prepare and equip us to overcome the things that we might be facing in our lives,” she said. “It’s also important to understand that you have a legacy of accomplishment and achievement, and so it’s important to talk specifically with young people about the people who became doctors, lawyers and educators against some very steep odds. That way they know they have it in their capability to do the same. Anything really is achievable because it has already been done. You see that it can be done, so you know it can be done for you in your life.”

Thompson played a big role in the museum’s operation while serving as the executive director of the Association to Preserve African American Society, History and Tradition, Incorporated (PAST, Inc), which collects, preserves and exhibits historical artifacts and information that illustrate the meaningful role African Americans played in the Orlando area and the rest of Florida.

Now as the director of downtown community engagement for UCF Downtown and Valencia College Downtown, a 15-acre campus bringing an innovative learning environment to the downtown area, she is helping foster relationships with community leaders in Parramore and surrounding neighborhoods, planning community events for the downtown campus and coordinating the work of the Parramore Community Engagement Council.

A graduate of Florida A&M University, Thompson has always enjoyed working with clients, visitors, or community partners to attain mutually beneficial business objectives. She is also a strong believer in collaboration and partnership. One particular organization she loves collaborating and partnering with is the Orlando Magic because they have the same level of passion as she does for the community and helping young people realize their full potential.

“I am proud of the job they have been doing,” she said. “I think since the organization came to Orlando, one of the focuses has been community outreach and community involvement. I think it is extremely important. One of the things that we kind of accept as the norm is that young kids look up to athletes. So it helps to have one of our athletic organizations in Orlando show firsthand the importance of community activism and community engagement.”

About the Program: As part of the Magic and Steve Clifford’s continuing efforts toward social justice reform, he created the Social Justice Game Changer program to honor one local leader who has made a difference in the realm of social justice issues. A cause close to his heart, Clifford is extremely active in programs that support equality and justice for all people in the Central Florida community.

Through this program, Clifford looks to put the spotlight on those continuously doing the hard work, day in and day out, fighting for sustainable change. As part of his program, one person is selected and honored each game. The honorees are given tickets, provided by Clifford, to the game and featured in-arena on the Magic Vision screen at center court.

“The purpose is to honor and to celebrate so many of the people in the Orlando community who are fighting for change and who commit their lives to making Orlando a better place,” Clifford said. “It’s just a way to celebrate them, what they stand for, and what they do for our community.”

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