The first Thrive by Five Summit: Mobilizing the Collective, welcomed over 150 guests to the Center for Health Equity to address the growing need and initiative of holistic early childhood development. The program began with a welcome from the Thrive by Five Director, Dr. Keesha Benson and Randall Russell, President of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete.

The purpose of this event was a call to action and what we, as a community, can do to ensure our children have as many opportunities for success as possible. Dr. Ricardo Davis, Director of the Bay Area Head Start, walked us through the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University. What we learned is while there are still troubling gaps and they begin very early in life, improvement is possible as we’ve seen it happen over the years.

With this study and statistics in mind, Dr. Barbara Morrison-Rodriguez, of BMR Consulting, walked us through the current state of early childhood in Pinellas. Dr. James McHale, Director of the Family Study Center, shared the importance of the first three years of childhood. Finally, Tom Kennedy, of Westport Group, shared the pipeline and the importance of cradle to career.

Just before lunch, Dr. Benson rallied the crowd in a call to action to play a more active role in shaping the future of Pinellas children. We broke for lunch and came back to hear from the keynote speaker. Author of Journalism, Justice & a Chance for Everyone, David Lawrence Jr. shared his colorful life story starting with his own childhood and family. If you are unfamiliar with him or his work, I would highly recommend adding his book to your “to be read” list.

The last speakers we heard from were the panel of early childhood champions. The scope of childhood development was covered from birth to five initiatives to what Pinellas can do to take care of its’ families.

To close out the programming, Fiona Potter – Facilitator and Author, and Karen Boggess of the Juvenile Welfare Board, took the audience through some eye-opening activities to show how connected quality of life and success truly are. The murmurs of astonishment from even community experts only validated the work that needs to be done.

It was an incredible experience to host this event and share the stage with so many experts and advocates. We don’t plan to lose this momentum. We will take it and continue to push forward, but this initiative requires all of us to come together.  If you’d like to get involved, please reach out to Dr. Keesha Benson at