Kenneth Brown, Vickie Gainer, Dr. Nelson: The Black Pioneers of Bay County

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“The function of education is to learn to think hard and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. – Martin Luther King Jr.

As black history month is coming to an end, I am excited to celebrate some of the current black leaders here in Bay County. This county has seen its share of African-American pioneers in the past and today is no different. Currently, we have three black city officials serving in positions of distinction. I have the honor and the privilege of highlighting them today.

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Continued:Black History Month: Bay County relies on many people | guest view

Kenneth Brown Currently holds the seat of City Commissioner Ward 2. Brown is a proud graduate of Rosenwald High School’s Historic Class of 1965. He then attended Rosenwald Junior College which later became Gulf Coast Community College. He graduated from Gulf Coast in 1967. After graduation, Brown joined the United States Navy where he served in domestic communications and handled underwater craft. After his Navy service, Brown returned to Panama City and began work at WestRock Paper Mill where he completed his apprenticeship as an electrician. As a licensed electrician, Brown started his own business, Brown’s Electrical Service, offering his expertise to his community. While an entrepreneur, Brown joined the Bay County Chamber of Commerce. As a member of the chamber, he was invited to join the board of directors of the Panama City Community Redevelopment Agency or CRA. Commissioner Brown said during his time with the Chamber of Commerce that he was asked to run for City Commissioner when Commissioner Jonathan Wilson decided he would not run again. Brown said, “If you don’t try, you won’t know whether you’ll succeed or not.” After his run, he was elected Municipal Commissioner of Ward II. Brown remained active in his community and served on the Downtown North Design and Planning Committee, the Downtown Improvement Council, the Glenwood Working Partnership, the Better Business Bureau, and the Home Builders Association. Commissioner Brown is married to Rose Marie Brown and has four sons of whom he is very proud.

Vickie Gainer is one of the phenomenal pioneers of Panama City. As a native of Panama City, Gainer has a rich history of service and public works. In 1981, she obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Montevallo. She also received her Master of Science in 2004 from Florida State University. Since graduating, Gainer has been a trailblazer in her community. She has worked as Director of Communications at Florida State University Panama City, Deputy Director of Marketing for Peoples First, and she has worked as Regional Director of Business Development and Marketing for Gatehouse Media. In 2017, Gainer was hired by the city of Lynn Haven. She served as Assistant City Clerk, Director of Human Resources, Manager of Grants and Contracts, and Director of Administrative Support Services in 2018. She also served as Public Policy Moderator for Gulf Coast State College’s Citizen Leadership Program . Gainer was named City Manager of Lynn Haven on November 15, 2019. With this appointment, she made history. She was the first woman and African American to hold this position. With her appointment as City Manager of Lynn Haven and her countless hours of service and dedication, Gainer is an inspiration not only to her community, but also to young Black people in the area. By her example of poise and grace, she makes her community proud. Gainer is married to retired educator Harry Gainer Jr. and has two children.

Dr. Jesse Nelson, the Mayor of Lynn Haven, is a distinguished and dedicated member of our community. As a proud Alabama native, Nelson calls Panama City home and continues to make it a better place for all of its citizens. Nelson is a graduate of Selma University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He continued his education at Alabama State University and Regent’s Park College, Oxford University. Since 2016, Nelson has served as the senior pastor of the Missionary Baptist Church of Macedonia in Panama City, where he put the “mission” in missionary. He takes pride in ensuring that the Macedonian body is one that shows love and compassion across the city, country and world. Under his leadership, Macedonia served as a place of relief for people in need after Hurricane Michael. Amid COVID-19, Nelson supported test and vaccine initiatives at his church. Nelson’s compassionate hand crosses international waters as he is also a missionary in Haiti. He has a heart for children, as evidenced by his community partnerships with the Bay Area Youth Summer Work Program, his membership on the Anchorage Children’s Home Board of Directors, local Girl Scouts, and his mentorship at the Mosley High School. With his love for people and service, Nelson ran for mayor and was elected in 2021. Nelson made his community proud. With the love and support of his wife, Catesha Nelson, and their two children, Nelson continues to be a wonderful black leader in our community.

Ashley Myatt is a graduation coach at Rutherford High School and secretary of Minority PC, a non-profit organization. She is a resident of Panama City.

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