Interviewed by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Juanita Floyd grew up in the Red Hill community in Blue Springs and graduated from East Union Attendance Center. She attended Northeast Mississippi Community College and received an accounting degree from the University of Mississippi. She is senior vice president of finance and administration for the CREATE Foundation, where she has worked for 37 years. She has three children and four grandchildren.
Q: You are a community columnist for the Daily Journal. How did this come about?
A: Sometimes pain and devastation chart a new path. Sixteen years ago, I went through a divorce, had to raise three children by myself (ages 10, 12 and 16) and had to make decisions that would affect us all forever.
An unfortunate circumstance became the catalyst that caused me to allow my oldest son as a senior to graduate from the school district we were currently in, and then move my other children to Tupelo Public Schools. I had heard many negative statements concerning “white flight,” racial discrimination and other matters within the district. As a parent, I was worried — that teachers or administration had a set of standards for white children and another for Black children; worried that I didn’t know any of the teachers, counselors, etc., as I did in the district I’d been in for 13 years.
I asked the Lord to give me two witnesses I was making the right decision. He did just that. At the end of that school year, I asked the editor of the Daily Journal if I could write about my experience as a Black parent in the Tupelo School District. Since that first article published, I have been a columnist for 15 years.
Q: And how did you start public speaking?
A: I shared a story at a NEWMS event about how my mother prepared me for integration. Since, I have spoken in front of 10 people to over 1,000 at school events, conferences, commencements, Black history events. In February 2020, I was recognized by the Mississippi Senate for my career and community involvement, and had the amazing opportunity to speak before them.
Q: “The Summer of 1969” made you an author. What inspired you to write the book?
A: A businessman who heard me share my story said to me, “Juanita, that story should be in a book.” He contacted (author) Sara Williams Berry for me. Sara used my presentation to write the story in children’s book form. I never imagined people would donate monies to help get this book into schools and libraries — to date over 7,000 books have been donated. The book was submitted to the Teacher’s Choice Awards, and in 2019, we won a national award in the category of family. My mother, Bernice Wade Gambrel, now deceased, has been the inspiration for everything I have done. She chose to see a different world filled with hope, opportunity, love and forgiveness.
Q: Might there be other Juanita Floyd books in the future?
A: Sara and I are working on another book titled, “The Summer Before.” This book is geared to an older audience. One day, I would like to publish my columns in a book.