by Rev. Diahne Parsons
Ever want to catch a shooting star? Take a breath because it may take a minute but with a sense of wonder, you might just step into the right frequency of one. As it would happen and not without the courage to dare, we brought in for a landing one of Harlem’s own stars, Ms. Carole Ann Taylor.
A tribute to Women’s History Month would be inexcusable without the celebration of the life and times of Ms. Taylor! Always finding an opportunity to deepen her faith, Carole Ann created a relationship with spirit early in life. The daughter of one of Harlem’s most dynamic Ministers, Rev. Carl B.Taylor formerly of Union Baptist Church, a civil rights activist and a social worker, Carole Ann would always attend “his ministers meetings”. Like father like daughter, it is as in how she presents herself.
“After I graduated from Central State University in 1968, I started my career working in The Office of the Governor in The Women’s Unit. I was hired to work in the Albany office. I love to sing too and within a years’ time, I snuck backstage at a concert for Duke Ellington to see him. Two years prior he’d heard me sing and told me to call him when I graduated. I didn’t call him, thinking that must’ve been just something he says to people. Of course, upon sneaking back there, he says to me, “I thought I told you to call me when you graduated!” (Laughing). The lady with the voice that stole Duke Ellingtons heart was moved by the Duke himself from a life of working out of the Governors office with Nelson Rockefeller to working with him. “My parents thought I lost my mind!” Carole Ann chuckled.
The magic continues as Ruth Ellington, Duke Ellington’s sister, set young Carole Ann up in her new apartment at 409 Edgecombe Ave, Harlem, NY while Duke gave her his music to learn, sending her to his coach, Mr. Luther Henderson. “I reported in to his offices, located right above Tiffanys. I asked him if he knew the song ‘Alfie’. “No! I don’t know Alfie and neither do you. You’ll sing what I write” he replied. When offered a five year contract by the Duke, she decided five years was too long, returning back to the Governors Office.
Exponentially making these leaps, Ms Taylor, transferred to The Governor’s Office in NYC, as Director of Community Affairs 1969 – 1974, where she worked directly for Ms. Evelyn Cunningham (who headed both offices for Governor Rockefeller). So says Carole Ann, “It was never in my head that I couldn’t do something.” As if asking it into being she was able to perform part time with giants such as Lionel Hampton, Buddy Tate, Buck Clayton and Cedar Walton.
1971 was a busy year. Taylor became a delegate from Harlem to the first National Black Political Convention in Gary Indiana and was named Co-Chair of the newly formed National Women’s Political Caucus, chairing its first National Political Convention in Houston, TX. “We used to meet in Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan’s homes at the beginning of the Caucus’ life”. Add to that, super-powers Fanny Lou Hammer, Evelyn Cunningham, Shirley Chishom and Bella Abzug were all members of this amazing group.
“Fannie Lou Hammer used to sleep on my couch when she’d come in town!
“I was very involved in Black and women’s political empowerment, establishing the “Coalition of Black Republicans”. The Governor had more Black appointees than any other administration in the history of New York. At this time there was a liberal arm of the Republican Party that included Governor Rockefeller, Jacob Javits and other elected Republican officials. Carole Ann was very much involved in the Harlem community and its politics, speaking to many local and state organizations on behalf of the Governor’s Office and the Women’s Unit.
Still singing part time, Carole Ann met another Jazz Great, Danny Mixon, and they decided to have a child. During her pregnancy she took courses at the Basil Patterson Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution where she was trained and certified as a Mediator/Arbitrator of Community Family Disputes. “I graduated the day I gave birth to my son, Jaesyn in Oct 1975. They hand delivered my certificate to my hospital bed.” How’s that for multi-tasking!
Not one for taking breaks, Taylor worked for the legendary Dorothy Height in 1976. Still caring for a new born baby, Ms. Taylor continues, “I was approached by the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Holding the keys to how we evolve, shift and grow, Taylor got certified again in settling community disputes – this time on a national level. With an eye for the All encompassing whole, in New Orleans, “I negotiated a settlement for the Black Teachers Union and the White Teachers Union to become one. I loved doing this, calming people in their storms and without going to court!”
Carole Ann may very well be the only one to truly rise and shine during the black out of 1977 when the SBA had to step in and declare New York City as a disaster area. Carole Ann was up for the job! “I met a remarkably talented African-American bank officer that wrote disaster loans. He was a genius at it. I told him you need to teach me how to become a Loan officer.” Together, he and the daughter of a minister worked mudslides, hurricanes floods, tornadoes droughts, fires and black outs all across the country with her new team (their nickname? “Disaster Bums”). Carole Ann thrived on assisting people suffering in the wake of disaster, trauma and loss. “I am at my best when people are at their worst, helping to rebuild their lives, all lives, all businesses, all races, and all communities.”
The riot of 1980 broke out in Miami and the “disaster bum” that she was, still on the road, kept her family together, buying a van and getting married, making her way onto their next disaster – destination, Miami. “I fell in love with Miami! I couldn’t help but stay!” Yet again, armed with a courageous heart, still exploring further resources of inquiry and seeing endless room to plant, Taylor found opportunity for growth in every way. She found that the Miami SBA office made little to no black business loans in its history. “I said, okay, I’m ready to fix this.” Taylor fought to create a nine week course to teach 62 African-American people business skills and brought Black bankers and others from all over the country to teach (including, President of Carver Bank, Bill Hudgins). What’s more, she founded a weekly column on Black Business in The Miami Times. Eventually, “going back into politics, I was noticed by Mayor Maurice Ferre during his 1983 campaign for re-election and he hired me”. In 1983, “I became the first Black assistant of a Miami Mayor”. During my tenure, I acquired an affinity for all of Miami’s neighborhoods including Little Haiti, Little Havana, Allapattah, Overtown, Liberty City, Coconut Grove, Florida City, Richmond Heights and Carol City.
In the Mayor’s Office, part of my job was to ensure that the newly built Bayside marketplace in downtown Miami had at least 50% Black and Hispanic businesses. I negotiated, referred and created those businesses and then I joined them, deciding to open a retail shop myself in 1987. I opened the Bayside To Go store. This was the beginning of my venture into the destination retail stores. Subsequently I opened the first Cuban gift shop and souvenir store, “Little Havana To Go.” Additionally, I brought the first tour buses into Little Havana changing the face of the business landscape and marketplace throughout the district. I then pursued retail locations in the Miami Int’l Airport and in 1994 established my company in a duty-free partnership at the airport. Subsequent to that, I established my own personal brands of gift and souvenir stores as well at the Miami Airport, as follows: Little Havana To Go, Miami To Go and Miami Gifts To Go. They are all still there at the present time. In 2018, I left the day to day functioning in the hands of my partners and became semi-retired.
In a blitz to delete any outdated paradigms that do not work anymore, Taylor said, “I realized the merchants in Little Havana were not in sync.” Once again aligning community, business and social relationships, the shaper shifter exudes, “I created the ‘Little Havana Merchants Association’ encouraging folks to stop looking at the differences and begin to see their commonalities. As a natural outgrowth, the ‘Viernes Culturales’, Little Havana Monthly Street Fair was created and has become an institution. I also pursued my passion of further supporting small businesses and through my boards, community engagement and representation in Miami’s economic growth.” Ms. Taylor serves on the boards of ‘The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ & the ‘Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau’ as part of its Executive committee helping to include the various Heritage neighborhoods in our tourism footprint.
While enjoying the beauty of being a mother of two sons and grandmother of six, Carole Ann confides “all of whom bring me joy on a daily basis! If there’s any legacy I want to leave, it’s that I did as much as I could to foster economic development, individual Black businesses, and the further economic empowerment of our additional ethnic communities”. Ever the nurturer, Ms. Taylor continues to inspire with a generosity of spirit saying, “I will continue to advocate for Black businesses, small businesses and Heritage Neighborhoods economic development. Along the way I’ll continue to pursue my career as a jazz singer and perform all the beloved classic jazz standards.” Carole Ann performs at various clubs throughout Miami Dade County and regularly appears at Miami’s prestigious Hotel, the Betsy”.
Carole Ann Taylor “CAT” is on the scene.