Donna James believes in the positive impact of faithful friends as well as the powerful product of prayer.
When her sister, Temple Terrace resident Felicia Wintons Taylor, 50, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August and admitted to Brandon Regional Hospital in early January, a group of her longtime University of South Florida Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters banded together to solicit money to help defray the mounting costs for her care. Taylor has no medical insurance.
They set up a bank account in her name and by Feb. 13 raised more than $10,000 with the help of their fellow USF graduates, alumni, faculty members, area businesses, churches and community groups.
Contributors also consisted of Taylor's former bookstore patrons who frequented her Temple Terrace business, Books for Thought, which opened in 1992 and closed in 2007.
Sorority sister Anita Lewis of St. Petersburg remembers it as a hub for readers seeking hard-to-find literary works and a place where clients could hobnob with well-known authors.
Taylor closed the business, once featured in Oprah Winfrey's magazine, with the intention of reopening in a larger, more visible storefront. In the interim, she and her husband, the Rev. Nathan Taylor, have been focusing much of their attention toward opening the Taylor Peace Academy, an anti-bullying charter school, in the fall.
"She is so very grateful for all the contributions from so many of her friends and so thankful for the multitude of prayers," said James, a resident of Seffner who visits Taylor daily at the hospital. "We just pray that God is blessing all who have blessed her."
On Feb. 19, Brown noted that Taylor is responding well to chemotherapy and is expected to be discharged soon.
"She'll be staying with me for a while, and she'll need around-the-clock care, help I can't provide because I work," Brown said. "That also will be costly."
Valetta Chaney of Cocoa Beach, another of Taylor's sorority sisters who pledged with her in 1979 and was instrumental in establishing the account at Washington Mutual Bank to benefit Taylor, said it will remain open for a while longer to accommodate additional deposits that are accepted at any of the bank's branches.
"I hope that fund continues to grow, and we think it will because there are so many people who love her and want her to get well," Chaney said.
In the meantime, other supporters, including Samuel Wright, a USF student ombudsman and adjunct professor of Africana studies, and Carlton Burgess, a gospel music composer, recording artist and owner of Burgess Music School and Burgess School of the Arts in Tampa, are planning a free gospel concert Saturday at the Cathedral of Faith Church in Tampa. They hope to raise $5,000 through a love offering following the event.
"I've known Felicia quite well as we worked together on the Black Heritage Festival, of which she is the treasurer," Wright said. "She's a phenomenal person. We just ask God to give her a second chance so she could be removed from her bed of affliction."
Lewis describes her friend as a warm and giving woman, a person who has goals and the intelligence and tenacity to carry them out.
"Felicia has given a lot to the community, and for that they are giving back," she said.
Fellow sorority sister Cathy Edwards of Fort Lauderdale, who considers Taylor to be one of her "best buddies," recalled that her longtime friend was the first student she met when she enrolled at USF.
"She is the kind of person who would never ask for help," Edwards said. "But, she's a friend in need and a good friend, indeed."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Gospel music concert to benefit Felicia Wintons Taylor
WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The Cathedral of Faith Church, 6304 30th St., Tampa
COST: Free, but an offering will be taken.
INFORMATION: Samuel Wright, (813) 974-1399