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UF/IFAS Celebrates Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, we will be sharing stories of UF/IFAS faculty and staff throughout February.

Dr. Fitzroy “Roy” Beckford

Dr. Fitzroy “Roy” Beckford, grew up on a farm in Jamaica, and grew to love the feel of the soil in his hands. Working in Extension from Jamaica to the British Virgin Islands, he focused on both crop and livestock. An opportunity far from home for his wife, Marguerite Beckford, would bring them both to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in 2003.

“Marguerite first came to work for UF/IFAS as an extension agent in Miami-Dade County in 2003. I was working as an agriculture manager for one of the agricultural centers in the British Virgin Islands at the time,” Beckford explained. “I followed her and became a UF/IFAS Extension agent in Lee County in 2005. I guess we were destined to both work here, and it’s been a great fit.”

Currently, Marguerite is the commercial horticulture agent in Sarasota County. Roy is the County Extension director and ag/natural resources agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Lee County office.

Beckford considers himself a generalist agriculturalist, as he received a World Health Organization scholarship to study veterinary health and veterinary public health in Guyana, earned a master’s in agricultural and rural development from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, and a Ph.D. in sustainable agriculture from Prescott College in Arizona.

“My background in working on a farm with my family led to an interest in educating people on how to improve their resources and skill sets,” he said. “Growing up in Jamaica, I understood the importance of food, fiber and fuel and how these relate to people’s livelihood.”

Now, Beckford most loves sharing information with Florida residents who want to go into farming. “Entrepreneurs think outside the box and want to do things differently; I love that,” he said. “I’m happy to work with farmers who have taken small ideas and turned them into successful businesses. I see farmers who start like this 10 years ago who now hire up to 30 people. They contribute significantly to the development sector of the county.”

In addition, Beckford works with schools in underserved communities in a program called Outreach to Food Desert Communities. He visits middle and high schools in food desert communities, and works with nonprofits to build community gardens. “Through these focused programs, students get to grow beyond their community, the world outside of their community is revealed in a clearer way, and they get to realize that they can become a part of the wider world,” he said.

Dr. Sally Williams

Dr. Sally Williams, an associate professor in the department of animal sciences, desires to see more African Americans and other underrepresented students explore careers in agriculture. So, for most of the past 24 years, she has devoted herself to teaching, research and spreading the word about unique career opportunities in agriculture and life sciences.

“Students and people, in general, are not aware of the numerous and diverse careers available in agriculture. This is especially true for African Americans and other underrepresented students, who just do not realize all of the options available to them,” said Williams, who teaches in the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Williams and her family relocated to Gainesville in 1974, where her husband established a business. She obtained employment in a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences lab, and was amazed at all of the careers that agriculture offered.

Williams went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in food microbiology from UF, and worked for a research company. She was the first African American to graduate with a Ph.D. degree from the food science and human nutrition department in 1993. She entered the classroom where she realized that she could not only bring industry knowledge to students, but also educate them about the diverse world of agriculture.

“I love teaching because I love working with students and educating them about how their food is made, and governmental regulations associated with food production,” Williams said, “but, I really love sharing with students all of the careers that they can pursue with their degrees in agriculture.”

Williams is one of the three advisors for UF Student Chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). She also serves as a mentor for the University of Florida Minority Mentoring Program and advisor on the UF Ronald E. McNair Advisory Board.

Marie Thomas

Marie Thomas is an administrative support assistant with the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Academic Dean’s Office. Her primary responsibilities are providing secretarial and clerical support to one of the Associate Deans and to the Director of Student Development and Recruitment. Last year, she received a Superior Accomplishment Award for her excellent work, especially for her contributions during the eight month period when the Dean’s office was under renovation. She is described as a truly dedicated employee and an overall upstanding individual.

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