Corey Givens Jr. isn’t even 25 years old, yet the millennial activist is immersed in a panoply of local organizations in St. Petersburg.
In addition to being president of the Lakewood Terrace Neighborhood Association, he serves on the local chapters of the NAACP, the Sierra Club and the Citizens Advisory Council for the South St. Pete CRA. And now he’s running for the St. Petersburg District 6 City Council seat being vacated this year by Karl Nurse, who is term limited.
“I want to focus on accountability,” he says. “Making sure that we’re voting on issues that are relevant to people who were serving.”
When asked who or what was an influence in his intense interest in the community, he credits his journalism professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the late Bob Dardenne, for inspiring him.
“It started in his classroom,” Givens said speaking to this reporter earlier this week at the Panera Bread outlet on 4th Street North. Givens’ beat on the Crow’s Nest paper was covering local government, and he said he observed the discontent among citizens in St. Petersburg and Gulfport regarding red-light cameras, who didn’t feel like their interests were being heard. Covering issues like that made him realize how vital the role of local government is in people’s lives, he says.
Givens calls former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and former City Councilman Frank Peterman to be some of his mentors, and says he honors some of other African-American leaders who previously served in the seat, like David Welch and Ernest Williams.
Another theme of his candidacy is embracing the future while respecting the past, something that he says informs his opinion on the latest developments regarding the Pier, where he celebrated at Cha Cha Coconuts when graduating from Lakewood High. He says it needs to be family friendly, yet responsive to small business needs.
Despite his youth, this isn’t Givens first run for local office. As a 20-year old in 2012, he ran for a seat on the Pinellas County School board, but his campaign efforts ended ignominiously when it was discovered that he falsely boasted to the Tampa Bay Times that he had an associate’s degree from St. Petersburg College, a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and was pursuing a master’s degree at the USFSP.
With a whopper like that on his resume, Givens addressed the issue head on in his statement announcing his candidacy last month.
“I made a mistake,” he said this week. “It’s how we rebound from those mistakes is what truly defines us. And I worked my behind off to earn the trust back from my family, my supporters, my friends, my community. Making sure that they could feel that they could trust me again, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past six years is serving, and ever since that hiccup back in 2012 I’ve made sure that I’m doing my part.”
Givens says he’s all about uniting the city, and isn’t interested battles of downtown vs. the Southside, black vs. white, or rich vs. poor.
“It’s about making sure that we’re all working together, to build up our community, so that we have a more vibrant, economic base, so that we are preserving and protecting our waterfront, so that we are making sure that our children and our young adults are prepared for jobs for the future in tech and trade.”
When asked if some voters might hesitate to vote for someone only in his mid-20’s, Givens says he uses “haters” to motivate him to prove that he’s worthy. He says he’s a workhorse, not a showhorse, referring to the fact that he started serving on the NAACP youth council when he was 17. “That’s what folks want to see, somebody who’s not necessarily been at the top, but somebody who’s been behind the scenes, doing the work, putting in the ground work, because those are the kind of folks we want to see serving in our govt. not those who have a sense of entitledness, but those with humbleness. Those who have the heart of public service, and that’s what I bring to the table.”
Givens is the first candidates to declare for the District 6 seat. He turns 25 in April, and if elected in the fall, he’d become the youngest council member in St. Pete history.