Black History Month: The Legacy Of Thelma Vernell Anderson Gibson

Black History Month: The Legacy Of Thelma Vernell Anderson Gibson

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – South Florida native Thelma Vernell Anderson Gibson is a true living history maker and now her niece is carrying on her legacy.

With a gleeful smile, Dr. Todra Anderson-Rhodes gushed over a memory of her aunt attending her graduation.

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“I was really ecstatic to celebrate it with her because I graduated from business school with my masters on that same day and she was there with me! So my aunt has been someone who’ve I’ve always been able to count on,” she said.

Now 95 years old, Gibson attained her goals at a time it was uncommon to find women, especially a Black woman, in high-level positions.

“She has been such a wonderful influence in my life, understanding that ‘to whom much is given, much is required,” said Dr. Anderson-Rhodes.

To say much was required from Gibson is an understatement. She was a child of the great depression, born in Coconut Grove in 1926. At the time there weren’t any streets lights in Coconut Grove or running water. Her family was part of the first settlers from the Bahamas to call the South Florida community their home.

Gibson went on to become one of the first African-American nurses to work at Jackson Memorial Hospital. During a 2012 Ted Talk, she explained that she was hired after writing a letter to the hospital, but went on to explain that it wasn’t a smooth transition once they saw her in person.

“They took one look at me and said, ‘uh uh nurse Anderson you can’t work in the operating room, but if you work on the colored floors and get some experience maybe one day you can work in the operating room,” said Gibson.

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However, Gibson did have experience. She graduated from Saint Agnes School of Nursing and North Carolina and was also a member of the U.S. Cadet Nurse corps where she specialized in operating room techniques.

Despite this incident, Gibson never allowed anything to deter her from reaching her goals and her legacy is what inspires her niece Dr. Anderson-Rhodes who is the Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Hospital in Miramar.

“I’m really excited and humbly proud to follow in her footsteps in terms of helping people so that they understand that they matter and also helping them so that they can get the help that they need,” said Anderson-Rhodes.

They are quite the footsteps to follow. Her aunt rose above the obstacles thrown at her and went on to have a 33-year nursing career.

Gibson also created Miami-Dade’s first Women’s Chamber of Commerce in 1984, which is still in existence today.

Although Gibson never got the chance to work in the operating rooms at Jackson Memorial Hospital, she was invited to serve on their public trust in 1984. Now her niece is keeping the family legacy going in her own right, knowing she carries the same determination her aunt had, at times it wasn’t easy to do so.

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“Even though we have our differences, we want everyone to be treated alike,” said Dr. Anderson-Rhodes. “That’s a part of what I want to leave as my legacy as an African American person. I don’t think that because I’m Black I deserve anything better or different. But I do deserve the same, that’s what my aunt taught me, her husband taught me, and my mother,” she added.

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