Dr. Felicia Benzo is a youth educator, author and community advocate.
In 2010, Benzo was approached by staff members from Pride Elementary School in Deltona who were interested in bringing in mentors for their students whom they felt could use guidance. When she was unable to find other organizations that were interested in mentoring students the way she wanted to, she founded CATALYST Global Youth Initiatives Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission of mentoring children one-on-one and improving their social and emotional intelligence.
“Is it easy? No. But just because it's not easy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done,” Benzo told The Beacon. “I don’t care where you come from, I don’t care who your parents are, I say you are going to be great.”
Benzo grew up in Harlem, New York, where she had the opportunity to see successful African Americans from a young age. While she studied medicine and became a physician at an inner-city hospital, she wanted to approach health from a more holistic perspective.
Benzo later moved to Florida with her family. There, she realized that education could be the approach she was looking for.
“I love Florida; I think it's a beautiful place. It’s easy to retire here, but people don’t realize how their lack of concern for the youth in these communities boomerangs back to them. Who’s taking care of us in hospitals?” she asked. “A population that knows how to be well and wants to be well, that’s where we get the biggest benefit. Physical health leads to good mental health.”
CATALYST is now in its 11th year, and Benzo said she is proud to see the number of children the organization has helped graduate and go to college or join the military.
Not just an educator, she has also written several books. Her first book, Raising Kings, is about her experience raising her four boys, all of whom are named after ancient African kings.
“For 18 years, we have to prepare these little people to be adults. Are they going to be perfect? No, but we have to give them the platform to be all they can be,” Benzo said. “The persistence, the ability to communicate, to self-start; that's what Raising Kings is about.”
Benzo’s next book, a children’s book called King Chaka My Akita and Me, will be out soon. She is also working on another book for parents called Parenting Bootcamp that she hopes to have finished in the coming months.
As an educator, Benzo said, teaching Black history is incredibly important for all children.
“Until there is the integration of the historical presence of African Americans in this country, we are going to need to have Black History Month. It’s unfortunate, because Black Americans have been such an instrumental part of our country,” she said. “It was a tragedy for African American students, but it denies white students the reality of the world they live in, that in many ways was created by African Americans.”