SARASOTA, Fla. (Jan. 12, 2017) Dr. Marie Byrd has long supported education and now the associate professor at USF Sarasota-Manatee’s School of Education is being lauded for her efforts in a new documentary film and photo exhibit.
The film, highlighting 20 community leaders from Manatee County and entitled “A Living Dream Photo Documentary,” was made by freelance photographer Travis Pendergrass. Both the screening of the film and the exhibit are scheduled for Monday (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day) from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 3rd Ave. W., Bradenton.
Although honored to be included in Pendergrass’ project, Dr. Byrd said she was hesitant at first to participate, explaining she didn’t want to call attention to herself.
“Once he told me the purpose was to motivate youth of diverse backgrounds regarding their path to career success, I felt I had a moral obligation to tell my story,” she said.
Dr. Byrd’s story begins humbly, in an impoverished, rural area of the Florida Panhandle. The first in her family to attend college, she became an elementary school teacher in the Miami-Dade County public school system and an assistant principal while taking night classes to earn a master’s degree and doctorate.
In addition to being an associate professor, Dr. Byrd is associate director of initial teacher preparation at USFSM and co-chair of the Manatee County School District’s Cultural Competence Committee. She’s noted for her studies examining culturally responsive teaching and culturally competent professional development training.
“My grandfather could not read or write and my mother didn’t finish high school,” she said. “I broke the cycle of poverty and lack of education in my family. So success to me is having more options for my future due to the education I obtained.”
Dr. Byrd was contacted about the project after Pendergrass approached Rodney Jones, president of the Manatee County chapter of the NAACP, to ask about possible subjects for the documentary. The filming and photo shoot occurred on a Sunday afternoon in December at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.
To remind her of the audience, Dr. Byrd brought along her 13-year-daughter, Jordan. Pendergrass asked three questions for the documentary: “What does success mean to you? What is the one obstacle you had to overcome to become successful?” And, “What’s one piece of advice you can give to anyone striving for success?”
She completed the shoot in one take. The process lasted about a half hour.
“Simply put, I was inspired interviewing Dr. Byrd,” Pendergrass said later. “I heard her story about how she came from a family where she was the first person to earn a degree, how her family received government assistance growing up. She had to apply for scholarships. After earning her degree, she worked in elementary schools while attending college at night to further her education.
“As I interviewed her, I watched her 13-year-old daughter and thought to myself, not only is Dr. Byrd a role model for her daughter, she’s a role model to others, and this project will inspire those that hear her story,” he said.
Dr. Byrd said the process prompted her to reflect on her life.
“I told my story as if I was speaking to my daughter,” she said. “As I thought about how I was able to get to the point where I am in my life and career, I thought about my education. Not only did it affect my career, it affected my life. Education helped me to develop into a lifelong learner. It made me the inquisitive, analytical thinker I am today. It changed the lens on how I view society.”
This was the second “Living Dream” documentary created by Pendergrass after making a film last year featuring 25 community leaders. As in last year’s production, his subjects were drawn from a variety of professions, from health care and education to business. Also like last year, he elected to use black-and-white film to capture his subjects’ portraits. To view last year’s display, visit www.fullfocusphotography.net/EVENTS/PHOTOSHHOTS/LivingDream/.
Pendergrass said he’s hoping to find other venues to display his work following the screening and photo exhibition. In particular, he hopes to show it to Manatee County school children.
“This project is important to me because I want youth to know that through hard work, dedication and education, success is attainable for all,” he said.
The project was underwritten by a State College of Florida MLK Day of Service grant. A freelance photographer, Pendergrass is the team photographer for USF football (home and away games), men’s and women’s basketball and other sports. He also freelances for SCF.