By Santura Pegram
It was once said that boxing great Muhammad Ali believed parents should be very careful when considering the name of their newborn child(ren), because that name will follow the child throughout their lifetime and often serve as an introduction to an unfairly judgmental world.
The late boxing-civil rights icon felt a name should serve as an ‘honorable title’ to be remembered by, as opposed to being a discriminatory reason to dismiss someone from a particular subject matter. Therefore, this belief should’ve served notice to those who initially questioned the name M. Athalie Range.
Unusually small in stature, yet awe-inspiring and captivating in presence, Mrs. Mary Athalie Range of Miami was a giant in a small body. A profoundly impactful political visionary, effective civil rights trailblazer, and successful black female entrepreneur, she had no choice but to be a person of significance with a unique name like Athalie.
Long considered the Political Matriarch of the State of Florida, a trusted advisor to President Jimmy Carter and several governors in Florida and from other states too, those who were blessed to know her understand why it was so easy for people of all generations and backgrounds to adore this sweet little woman. She had a magical presence about her that even melted the hearts of the most hardened politicians and business leaders, and won her favor among countless notable figures throughout the U.S. When she entered a room—whether it was a corporate board room full of high-powered executives or the political chambers of government buildings throughout the State of Florida—she characteristically had the E.F. Hutton effect upon most people: “when Mrs. Athalie Range talked, everyone listened.”
Commanding such respect and admiration from people came natural for her, which explained why she had over 125 local, statewide and national awards and honors covering every space on one wall of her office. Additionally, it’s also why she was blessed to see the main branch of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Miami, and a public park and swimming pool named after her long before she died in 2006. Since her passing, a special group of local leaders, which includes her grandson N. Patrick Range II., are preparing to spearhead a multimillion-dollar capital investment campaign to build a state-of-the-art museum educating people about the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, once the only public beach in Dade County, Florida open to African-Americans (virginiakeybeachpark.net).
In 1999, after years of being closed and virtually abandoned, it was Athalie Range’s final mission when she, Gene Tinnie, and a small group of progressive minds prodded the City of Miami to not only eventually re-open the park, but also agree to designate it to the National Register of Historic Places list. A few years later, the park officially re-opened to the public and is, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful, serene beach locations in the entire U.S. today. Unfortunately, most tourists visiting South Florida don’t realize that a breathtaking pristine beach is available to them just a 15-minute drive from downtown Miami and is a far more relaxing option than the typical overly-congested beachfront, streets and sidewalks of South Beach.
Residents of South Florida and visitors alike should forever feel indebted to Athalie Range because without her selfless endeavors and tireless advocacy, one of the last remaining examples of paradise on Earth simply would not exist.
To see a woman of her caliber evolve from fighting for the rights of children as the PTA President of her son’s school, to becoming a political and civil rights legend known for advocating for fairness among people, one can not help but wonder what Mrs. Range would’ve voiced about the current dynamics surrounding the senseless killings of black people by black people and black males by police officers.
Her grandson, N. Patrick Range II., recently expressed, “my grandmother would have been very disturbed by the violence and senseless killings taking place in our inner cities today. She always fought for blacks to have the same rights as others. During her lifetime, she dealt with issues like racial profiling and police violence in the inner cities. As an example, she was very vocal and extremely active during the killing of Arthur McDuffie. She was a loud and calming voice during the Miami riots, too. She urged blacks to stop the violence because we were only destroying our own community.”
He went on to say, without a doubt, Mrs. Range “would be unhappy with the lack of progress in community relations with police all over this country. She also would be equally concerned with the amount of black-on-black violence in every urban neighborhood and the proliferation of guns as well. She actually helped to start a program to encourage violent youth offenders to change their ways.
The program is called GATE and was designed to help minors avoid being convicted and carrying a record before they are adults. If the minor offender completes the coursework and program satisfactorily, then they have an opportunity to have their case dismissed. She was always proactive in doing things to resolve issues as opposed to sitting back and merely talking about the issue(s). She knew she could effect change with the right approach and that was always her goal.”
While many communities have never had the chance to learn from someone like M. Athalie Range, there’s always hope that the youth of today will grow into a modern day version of her. And, just maybe, help to make the world a far better place today and tomorrow than it has been for most disadvantaged people of color.
After all, we only live once. Why not make your life as meaningful as Athalie did?
• (Santura Pegram is a freelance writer and a business professional in South Florida. A former protégé – aide to M. Athalie Range – Santura often writes on topics ranging from socially relevant issues to international business to politics.)