Tawana Akins has long taken up causes in her community. Whether it was advocating for fellow classmates in high school, or cajoling residents to come to a meeting on gun violence, she raises her voice.
Now head of the Mathematics department at Holmes Elementary School in Liberty City, Akins continues to raise her voice to capture the attention of Black Miami and beyond.
Getting people together to work out assorted community ills, particularly gun violence, is what she’s done for 25 years. The spate of urban gun violence over the last three years has kept Akins focused on eradicating a seemingly intractable issue.
Akins organizes church rallies, neighborhood marches, curbside protests and even weekend tutoring sessions to call attention to gun violence.
She cajoles people to pay attention via word of mouth and fliers. But her method of choice ”to turn this around” these days is through Facebook Live.
On a recent Sunday, Akins took to the social media network to remind whomever tuned in about an upcoming community meeting the next day at a Liberty City Church.
“We need you to come out, even if you can’t stay. This is about our community,” she urged.
Akins said Facebook allows her to broaden her reach. She has nearly 5,000 friends — the maximum allowed on that platform — and more than 1,300 followers. She said through Facebook, she’s gotten tips and pleas for help.
“I get so much info in my inbox on Facebook. Some people ask for help, and some of them just need with someone to talk to,” Akins said. “They want to voice their concerns but are afraid to do so.”
Her activism started in 1993 when Akins was elected class president at Cope Center North, in unincorporated Miami-Dade County. Her classmates complained that school lunches were subpar, so Akins met with the cafeteria manager and school administrators to discuss the matter. “They came to me with the issue. They wanted me to be the voice,” she said. After discussing the matter with school administrator, the problem was solved.
Speaking out about gun violence unfortunately came early. Her first experience was in 2003, after the shooting death of her nephew Javon Carter, 14, at the hands of another young Black male. That incident occurred during her first year of teaching.
“I did not miss a court date and I stood before the judge explaining why the murderer should face charges,” she said. The outcome wasn’t what she wanted, though. “Since he was an underage teenager, he didn’t face much time.”
The experience, however, “was the start of my plight and fight toward gun violence. Years later, I am still fighting a more aggressive cause,” Akins said.
Aside from activism, Akins uses dance and food as stress relievers. She owns a dance company, which operates out of Jefferson Reaves Park in her hometown of Brownsville. She also is co-owner of Chill ’n’ Grill Smokehouse Restaurant, along with her older sister, LaShawn.
Karen Igbinoba, a retired educator and godmother, said Akins has an uncanny ability to put the same amount of energy in every- thing she does.
“She can multitask and every project she starts she sees it through,” Igbinoba said. “It’s just a wonderful thing to watch her grow and see the things she’s do- ing in the community.”
Each Christmas Day, Igbinoba said, the two women go to a spot at Northwest 15th Avenue in Liberty City and feed a hot, home- cooked breakfast for up to 100 men and women. They also give out clothes and shoes.
That generosity, Igbinoba said, “is a learned thing” and that Akins has a “spirit of giving.”
“She’s just a grateful person.”
Akins said it’s the upcoming generations who motivate her. The desire to serve children led her to education. She’s fared fairly well, and is a former Teacher of the Year finalist for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“Many look at kids and become hopeless. I look at children and become hopeful. I believe in educating the total child,” Akins said. “If we as educators only focus on academics, we will continue to lose generations of children. Children rise when they know you genuinely care.”