DR. BARBARA CAREY-SHULER: Prestigious Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award recognizing first African American woman Miami-Dade Commissioner and longtime community activist Carey-Shuler for unprecedented service, being received from Ret. Det. William Dames and Dr. Beverly Kee. ALAN LUBY PHOTO FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Spending a lifetime advocating for affordable housing, her efforts to make the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday celebration a paid holiday in Miami-Dade County, and becoming the first African American woman to serve on the Miami-Dade County Commission, are just a few of the accomplishments that have made Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler an icon.

The impact Carey-Shuler has had on people’s lives for decades as a public servant and community activist has culminated in state and local recognition by two Florida governors and a coalition of organizations that benefited from her initiatives. She has a road renamed for her in Miami-Dade County.

But her latest achievement is another pinnacle in her legacy.

Carey-Shuler was among the recent recipients of the 2023 President Biden Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors volunteers who made a difference in their communities.

Carey-Shuler, who lives in Palm Beach County, said moving and being stricken with COVID-19 initially put a damper on her celebration when she learned the news.

"I was so exhausted from moving … I was downsizing, and then I got COVID-19 when the announcement came in that I was selected for the award," she told the South Florida Times.

"It was a really rough time that it didn’t get the attention it deserved for receiving a prestigious honor. But I was greatly humbled and it inspired me to continue my work in the community. I love helping people."

Carey-Shuler said dedicating her life to public service and community activism is what she was born to do.

"It means so much to me," she said. "It’s working 24 hours, seven days a week, not only on the county commision but volunteering in the community. I’m very pleased with the outcome because my purpose in life is to help others and serve."

Making sure minority students achieve a college degree is one of her top priorities.

Carey-Shuler, who once served as president for Palm Beach State College, launched the NextGen Summer Bridge End of Program, offered by the school’s Dr. Barbara Carey-Shuler Institute for Equity, which helps first-time college students receive academic, financial and personal support.

At this year’s scholarship banquet, 33 students were awarded $30,000 in scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,000 to attend PBSC.

Carey-Shuler said the program benefits students by lifting the financial burden for college expenses and helping them adjust to college academics to achieve graduation and a smooth career path.

"When I was president of the college, I noticed for the first time students were not familiar with college experience," she said. "So, I started and underwrote the program to bring students in and let them experience college before they start a semester to help them prepare for it. Providing scholarships was very important to them. Some students said they wouldn’t have been able to adapt to college had it not been for the program."

Carey-Shuler launched several community programs including Partners for Youth Program, Afrocentric Enhancement, Self-Esteem Opportunity Program and the Epilepsy Education for Minorities.

Carey-Shuler said she took an active role in the latter program because Blacks didn’t know they had epilepsy which made it difficult to treat.

She said she partnered with the Epilepsy Foundation, a nonprofit, for research to find a treatment without any costs to minorities with the neurological disorder.

"A lot of people in the Black and Hispanic communities had epilepsy but didn’t know what it was," she said. "The program was quite a challenge but I’m honored to be a part of it."

Carey-Shuler also made her mark as a Miami-Dade County commissioner.

In 1979, then-Florida Gov. Bob Graham appointed her the first Black woman to serve on the commission to replace Neal Adams who was removed from office.

Several months later, she was thrust into the spotlight during one of the worst riots in the history of the county.

Several white police officers were acquitted in the beating death of insurance agent Arthur McDuffie in 1980, sparking three days of rioting, causing 18 deaths and an estimated $100 million in property damages.

Carey-Shuler’s district, which included Liberty City, was one of the hardest hit areas.

"I didn’t sleep for days thinking what can I do to bring calm to the community," she said. "It was a big challenge but with the help of the almighty God, we were able to make some positive changes. I can’t explain how I got through it but I did."

Carey-Shuler also led the effort to compensate the McDuffie family and secured funding from state and local governments to rebuild Liberty City.

"I decided to reach out to the family because there was so much anger and hatred going around in the community," she said. "I decided to stay close to the family and get them compensated for the loss of their loved one."

Another challenge for Carey-Shuler was making Dr. King’s birthday celebration a local holiday before it was observed nationwide.

Carey-Shuler said transportation and other local unions and several of her colleagues on the dais opposed the idea, but she waited until they left for the day and brought the item back up.

It passed.

"You had a choice to take the holiday and get paid or not take off for the holiday," she said. "It was part of the proposal. Now kids can enjoy the parade and people have that day off to honor Dr. King."

Carey-Shuler also championed affordable housing for homeless people, veterans and seniors, and an affordable housing program that gives residents easier access to public transportation.

The first affordable housing building was named the Dr. Barabara CareyShuler Manor, a 100 apartment-unit complex, with 50 units for formerly homeless families and 50 units for senior citizens at 1400 N.W. 54th Street in Liberty City.

Carey-Shuler said it was a tussle between her and her colleagues for the program but she didn’t back down.

"I kept fighting for affordable housing for homeless families and vets who came home and couldn’t afford a decent place to stay," she said. “It’s an oasis and it helps people find jobs and address mental health issues. I’m very proud of that."

The transit villages are affordable housing just a few feet away from Metrorail stations to give residents an easier and quicker access to public transportation.

Carey-Shuler said she was a member of a U.S. president-appointed affordable housing committee with former U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, who was also the secretary of Housing and Urban Development when she broached the idea.

It drew praise from other committee members and Kemp was planning to propose it across the country.

"I was the first to propose the idea," said Carey-Shuler. "People who work hard shouldn’t have to walk five miles just to catch a bus. They can live near one of the transit villages and walk just steps away from Metrorail or board the buses. A public servant makes the quality of life easier for everybody."

Carey-Shuler also championed an effort to impose a 15-mile-per-hour school zone in Miami-Dade after a young girl was killed by a speeding car. She said Florida subsequently made it a statewide policy.

"It cut down the number of kids getting hit by cars while walking to school," she said. "It’s tragic when something like that happens."

But Carey-Shuler suffered several tragedies in 2006.

She lost her husband to cancer and moved to Palm Beach County to take care of his funeral home business. Her mother and her longtime mentor and friend, Athalie Range, the first Black woman to serve on the City of Miami Commission, also died that same year.

"I lost all the people who were so important in my life, who I frequently kept in contact with," she said. "It was a trying year for me."

But she persevered and continues to make a difference in her community.

Carey-Shuler adopted Inlet Grove Community High School and volunteers as president of the foundation and vice president of the governing board. Inlet Grove educates students to be career or college ready upon graduation.

Carey-Shuler also serves as the secretary on the Board of Trustees of the Technology, Enterprise and Development Center, which provides business experience in its programming to clients and customers.

She also is a member of the Board of Directors for Pathways to Prosperity, a nonprofit organization based in Boynton Beach, which is dedicated to strengthening the community by providing educational and social service resources. She is a board member of the Spady Museum in Delray Beach.

In 2013, Carey-Shuler was recognized for her business success and personal contributions to the Greater West Palm Beach community by Delta Sigma Theta sorority of West Palm Beach and the Delta Heritage Foundation.

Carey-Shuler is still praised for helping Blacks in Miami-Dade compete for contracts in what is called the Mom and Pops Business program.

She said her colleagues on the County Commission thought it was unconstitutional that her proposal excluded whites and Hispanics. It faced several lawsuits in the circuit court and court of appeals.

Carey-Shuler said she had to take her fight all the way to the Supreme Court which upheld her program.

Black small businesses benefited by increasing their revenues by 10 percent, she said.

"Blacks couldn’t compete with whites and Hispanic companies because they were miles ahead of us in skills and finances," she said. "Now Blacks can compete for contracts and it was a fight but quite an accomplishment."