Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI — When newly elected Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll would give her first major address as Florida’s highest ranking black official in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. at the Church of the Incarnation in Liberty City, she was on very familiar territory.
The church, in the heart of the black community, is familiar ground for Carroll, though a Republican in the heart of a mainly Democratic community. Her husband of 27 years, Nolan Carroll Sr., was baptized at Incarnation and grew up attending service there with his parents and siblings. His father, the late Charles Whitfield Carroll, who was one of the first black Miami police detectives, and his aunt, Jean Carroll Morley, formally joined the congregation in 1958. Now 77, she has been a faithful member for more than five decades.
A new generation of Carrolls got their beginnings at the Episcopal church. Nolan Sr. and Jennifer Carroll’s daughter Nyckie, 22, was baptized there as an infant by the Rev. J. Kenneth Major, who recently retired as rector.
Major fondly recalls the christening of the couple’s only daughter — and of giving his blessing for the couple to marry in New York 27 years ago.
So Jennifer Carroll was at home Sunday when she went to the church and was greeted by hundreds of people, including politicians, most of them Democrats, along with dignitaries and a who’s who among Miami’s black elite.
The worshipers also included a host of family members whom she greeted by name, telling them she was proud to carry the Carroll name. Her husband was absent due to a prior commitment but he joined her the following day to observe the King Holiday in Tallahassee.
The notables in attendance included her husband’s uncle, Earl Jackson Carroll, who served as the first black Miami-Dade County commissioner from 1968-72. Now 79 and in frail health, he rarely makes it to such events. He has said he is incredibly proud of Jennifer. Major acknowledged him during the service as a trailblazer among African Americans in Miami. During a reception in the church’s Parish Hall, where Jennifer Carroll greeted guests and signed autographs, Earl Carroll and other family members posed for pictures with her.
Earl’s son Steven, a Miami resident, was not surprised at the size of the gathering or that many people, including many Democrats, have embraced Jennifer Carroll, who formed half of Republican Rick Scott’s successful gubernatorial ticket.
“She is just the most compassionate, understanding, willing …a born humanitarian,” said Jean Carroll Morley, a retired educator school administrator. The world, she said, is now getting a glimpse of someone who has impressed the family from the beginning.
“She is quite the young lady to be proud of. She knew her priorities when I met her and she knew exactly how to go about attaining her goals and now God has blessed her to attain those goals. We’re just so proud of her success and look forward to her going even further,” Morley said.
It was also fitting that Carroll would speak at the King service, considering that she was the state representative who, in 2004, created the “Live The Dream” specialty license plate in honor of the civil rights leader. Part of the proceeds goes to research, care and treatment of sickle cell disease. Carroll showed one of the license plates during her speech and encouraged the congregation to support the effort by requesting it.
She told the gathering that she was fascinated and inspired by King as a child growing up in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. The year he was assassinated, 1968, was when she came to the United States. She was struck, she said, by the overwhelming sadness of so many people who had never even seen King in person.
“I thought to myself this man must have been so special that he impacted the lives of so many that never even touched him but his words so penetrated everyone and his actions inspired so many,” she said.
“Little did I know that his movement and his work, his passion for justice would pave the way for me to achieve the successes that I have achieved today,” she said.
She said that she is so inspired by King and his legacy that she has tried to live a life pleasing to him. “I have come into such an appreciation for him that I have tried to pattern my life in ways that he would be proud,” she said.
Daphne Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.