Introducing the 2021 Southwest Florida Community Advisory Board

Five diverse citizens from different parts of Southwest Florida will help us prioritize…

Introducing the 2021 Southwest Florida Community Advisory Board 1
Introducing the 2021 Southwest Florida Community Advisory Board 2

Mark H. Bickel
 
| Fort Myers News-Press

Connecting with our community is a top priority for the journalists at The News-Press and Naples Daily News. One of the best ways to having a direct connection with Southwest Floridians is through our community advisory board.

Today we are introducing you to the five members of our 2021 board, a diverse group of people who we chose to be a voice for all of those who live, work and play in this place we like to call paradise.

This board will meet once a month with a group of our editors and reporters to talk about key issues and to understand the best way to provide coverage, who to talk to and brainstorm solutions.

Part of the mission will be to invite leaders in the community to sit in front of the board to provide more context on important issues and to answer the board’s questions.

There is certainly a lot to talk about in our corner of the world and more than anything that will be the focus — Southwest Florida.

Because the board is extension of all of our residents, we’d also like to hear from you as we get started. If you have something you’d like to put on the table for discussion, tell us. What needs our attention right away so we can take steps, through our journalism, to make it better or to get the right people addressing the issue?

Send me an email with your thoughts: mbickel@gannett.com.

From time to time throughout the year I will let you know how things are going with the board and we will continue to seek your input.

Meet our board members

Jacquelyn McMiller

Jacquelyn McMiller is a local mother, grandmother, and community leader who has resided in the city of Fort Myers for more than 50 years.  Jacquelyn graduated with degrees in Legal Studies and Court Reporting and obtained a bachelor’s degree from Hodges University in Business Management with an emphasis on Risk Management. Jacquelyn’s career has spanned from the private sector of a corporate owner and managing the day-to-day responsibilities for official court records in the Collier County Court System to the development, training, and implementation of the Florida Safety Methodology.  She has spent more than 25 years working to serve the public through social services and grassroots efforts to support and protect the disenfranchised.

In 2020, Jacquelyn was inspired by the national movement for equality and justice to run for the mayor of Fort Myers. She was successful in building a local grassroots campaign that addressed the concerns of local residents. Jacquelyn advanced through the primary election and lost the election by less than a few thousand votes after a four-month campaign.  She is the first African American to win in a primary election and garnered the highest number of votes of any African American ever to run in a political office in Fort Myers. In 2021, Jacquelyn received the Lee Pitts Person of the Year award for her accomplishments for her political and social accomplishments.

Jacquelyn is actively involved in the community as a community outreach director for a local law office. She is forming a Fort Myers nonprofit focused on training and empowering the next generation of leaders.  She sits as the Assistant Branch Secretary and member of the board of the NAACP and Women’s March of Fort Myers, as well as a member of the Progressive Club of the Islands, Democratic Black Caucus, and Democratic Women’s Club.  Jacquelyn is dedicated to continuing to serve her community as a board member of the Community Advisory Board to The News-Press and Naples Daily News.

In her free time, Jacquelyn enjoys spending quality family time with her three children and five grandchildren and encouraging others.  

Brandon Jett

Brandon Jett received his PhD in History from the University of Florida in 2017, taught for two years as a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Rollins College, and is now a Professor of History at Florida SouthWestern State College-Hendry/Glades.

He is an award-winning scholar, writer, and teacher of history and crime, violence, and criminal justice in the United States. He is the author of Race, Crime, and Policing in the Jim Crow South (LSU Press, July 2021), and is working on two additional book-length projects. One explores violent trends in Texas from 1965 to 2018 and the other looks at the myriad forces that led to the decline of lynching in Florida from 1890 to 1965.

His work has also been featured in numerous venues, including the Washington Post, The News-Press, Naples Daily News, St. Augustine Record, Lakeland Ledger, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Savannah Morning News, the East Texas Historical Journal, and the Tennessee Historical Quarterly. He has also appeared on WGCU’s Gulf Coast Life. He lives in LaBelle with his wife and daughter. 

Sandy Parker

Sandy Parker is the founder and publisher of Sparker’s Soapbox, a nonpartisan blog, website and e-newsletter whose mission is facilitating and encouraging informed voting in Collier County and throughout Florida.

The 17-year Collier County resident is a popular speaker on state and local government topics to civic, leadership and community groups, retirement communities and adult education programs. She is an active member of the League of Women Voters of Collier County, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce and the Press Club of Southwest Florida; and a graduate of the Greater Naples Leadership program.

Prior  to moving to Florida, Sandy held executive positions in accounting, treasury and investor relations with several Fortune 500 companies. She received a BA with highest honors in American Studies from Douglass College at Rutgers University and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Jim Jastatt

Jim Jastatt is a young professional residing in Bonita Springs. He is dedicated to serving his local community and has an active interest in local Southwest Florida politics.

Jim’s career is in the overlap of business and information technology with a leading global research and advisory firm, providing information, advice, and tools for leaders in IT, finance, HR, customer service and support, communications, legal and compliance, marketing, sales, and supply chain functions.

Jim is invested in the local community with a residential rental property in Estero. He is pursuing his Masters of Business Administration from Florida Gulf Coast University with an aspiration to co-own his own business in Southwest Florida with his wife Ashley upon completion of the MBA program.

In his free time, Jim enjoys kayaking on the Estero River and taking in nature. Jim is dedicated to continuing to serve his community as a Board Member of the Community Advisory Board to The News-Press and Naples Daily News.

Maria Plata

Maria Plata is a young creative professional residing in Immokalee. She is dedicated to serving her local community and has an active interest in education and highlighting her community’s diversity through storytelling in her blog, Roots of Immokalee. She hopes to one day bring the stories of those in her community to a broader audience to preserve her community’s history.

After graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University, Maria began her teaching career abroad in Southeast Asia and returned to Southwest Florida after teaching in the Caribbean and the Middle East. She has continued to work in education through roles in the nonprofit and healthcare sector, most recently providing COVID-19 education as a community health worker.

Currently, Maria is an educator at a local charter school and serves as a member of Phi Mu Fraternity’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. In her free time, Maria enjoys exploring in our state parks, being involved in her church, and learning to cook her favorite meals from her time abroad with her husband.

As an Associate Leadership Collier 2019 graduate, she has continued to be civically engaged. Maria is dedicated to continuing to serve her community as a Board Member Community Advisory Board to The News-Press and Naples Daily News.

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