By Don Mizell

July 25, 2010 (Sun Sentinel)

My family — the Mizells — has one of the most pre-eminent names in South Florida history. For more than 100 years, we have built a well-earned and richly deserved legacy of service that has benefited Broward County and its African-American community.

Our family legacy centers around the unique role our family members have played in meeting the needs of individuals, long before local government assumed those responsibilities as part of its official civic obligation. At almost every important juncture of Broward County history, the Mizells played a role when blacks were not permitted to obtain necessary services from the larger white community because of legal segregation and the prevailing racial attitudes of the time. It was often said that, in the family’s heyday, a Mizell, brought you into this world, provided you with good schooling, built your house, helped your fight for your rights, took pictures of you and your family throughout your life, healed you when you got sick, and buried you when you died.

In other words, from cradle to grave, the Mizells were there.

Mizell was the second black doctor in Broward County. (Bill Bates, Sun Sentinel / August 24, 2007)

Mizell was the second black doctor in Broward County. (Bill Bates, Sun Sentinel / August 24, 2007)

Our family played a major role in ending legal segregation in Broward County, but that victory came at a high price. Once integration opened the doors to a better life, many African Americans went through them, depriving once segregated but vibrant communities of black talent and resources. We were no different. When opportunities outside of South Florida presented themselves to members of my generation, we left, too.

The black community of Broward County today is a far different place from the one that raised us. Gone are the neighborhoods that nurtured physicans, hustlers, schoolteachers and players. The businesses that once thrived are gone, too, replaced by boarded up buildings, trash-strewn lots and broken dreams. The battles have changed as well. Education, economic development and the need to compete in a global economy are the ongoing struggles of a new generation. Money is important, although not as much as the spiritual and intellectual commitment needed to change devastated communities.

Every other year, Mizells from across the country come together to celebrate in a family reunion. This year the gathering starts later this week in Fort Lauderdale, and the Mizells of Broward County are the “host family.” The tradition began over 40 years ago by another branch of the family, and this year under the capable direction of my cousins, Cheryl and Linda Mizell, the entire family will participate in a three-day session that includes the presentation of a biennial almanac of family profiles and articles, an awards program with honors named for family pioneers, a storytelling night, financial and health workshops, a youth mentoring program, and a special ceremony to honor Broward County’s proclamation that July 31 is officially “Mizell Family Legacy Appreciation Day” and “Don Mizell Appreciation Day.”

The idea is to use the reunion as a successful networking organization by developing closer family bonds, locally and nationally. I would like to see a new generation of Mizells continue our family’s legacy in South Florida, and I am encouraging my family to use our collective resources to help restore the communities that were so important to earlier generations of Mizells. We’re uniquely equipped to do it.

The legacy of the Mizells of Broward was forged starting 100 years ago by the patriarch of the family, my grandfather, Isadore Mizell, Sr., and carried forth primarily by four of his eldest children, Von D. Mizell, Rev. Ivory Mizell, Roy Mizell and Ethel Mizell Pappy over the course of the 20th Century. Individually, their hallmarks of accountability, self-reliance, entrepreneurship, independence and self-respect proved to be enduring traits that are shared by many members of our family to the present day. In the aftermath of the segregation it inspired us to aspire and attain unprecedented heights in the world writ large in law, medicine, academia, business, government, public service, media, and the creative arts.

Isadore Mizell, Sr., built the first school for “colored” children in the area around 1912, three years before Broward County was established in 1915. A farmer and carpenter with vast land holdings in the Dania Beach area, he built housing in that community and helped feed many African Americans there during the Great Depression.

His eldest son, my uncle, Dr.Von D. Mizell, became one of only a handful of black doctors, and the first surgeon, in South Florida. In 1938, he joined another legendary black physician, Dr. James Sistrunk, to build Provident Hospital, the county’s black hospital that would endure for almost 40 years. Besides a distinguished medical career, Dr. Mizell founded the Broward County chapter of the NAACP and became a nationally recognized leader for masterminding the Beach Wade-Ins to desegregate Fort Lauderdale’s beaches.

My uncle came up with the idea of the “Wade-Ins,” a unique variation of the “sit-ins,” as a means to efforts to desegregate Fort Lauderdale’s beaches. Not only did his efforts make history as a form of protest but it ultimately forced the city to open its beaches to everyone. To honor Dr. Mizell’s contributions to the community, city officials named a branch of the public library and community center after my uncle in the 1970s. Next summer they will commemorate the “wade-ins” as part of the city’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

My uncle’s younger brother, Ivory Mizell, became renowned as the unofficial town chronicler who used his photographic skills to document the lives of Broward County’s black community. The Ivory Mizell Photography Studio was the central point where just about everyone in the community went to have their images captured at various stages of their lives. Birthdays, graduations, proms, weddings — all were meticulously and professional staged and recorded on film at a time when the history of our community often was overlooked or ignored outright. He also established the first library in the black community in 1948 at Dixie Court Projects, where he was general manager.

LeRoy Mizell would make a name for himself as a businessman and mortician. The Roy Mizell Funeral Home handled the cessation of life affairs with dignity and unmatched professionalism, and at a price that was affordable and fair. People felt privileged to have family members be laid to rest at his funeral home, which remains a successful operation today and is the only Mizell business to survive the death of its founder.

Ethel Mizell Pappy represents the family’s ongoing respect for educational advancement and achievement. A recipient of a masters degree in education from Columbia University in 1955, she worked in the county’s public schools for most of her life, typically avoiding the spotlight but never shirking her sense of responsibility to advocate for educational excellence. It was that determination that helped her daughter, Rosamond, become the first African American to integrate a school in Broward County. My aunt also worked to rename a portion of Dania Beach Boulevard for her father, Isadore, and she spearheaded the drive to have the branch of the county library located on Sistrunk Boulevard after her brother, Dr. Von D. Mizell.

As we look to the future, the challenge before us now is to forge a new path of collective achievement using our family’s rich traditional values.The Mizells were, and continue to be, true pioneers. Unfortunately, there are many who continue to settle here in South Florida who remain unaware of these overlooked but still laudable figures from our state’s rich history. We’re doing our part to change that.

Don Mizell, a native of Fort Lauderdale, is a Harvard-trained attorney, creative executive and producer in the music entertainment industry. In 2005, he won a Grammy for “Album of the Year ” as a producer of Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company”. He also received the NAACP Image Award for Community Service for his work with Stevie Wonder to create the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday.

Link to article,0,2641666.story