top of page

Newtown and SOAR

Sarasota's first black settlers, Lewis and Irene Colson started Sarasota's first black community in 1910.  Source: Sarasota County History Center; Photo: Felix Pinard; on display at The African American Cultural Resource Center at the North Sarasota Public Library

In 1928 Residents of the Newtown Community established the Bryant Chapel on North Links Avenue. It was renamed the Hurst Chapel in 1929 in honor of Bishop John Hurst. 

Emma E. Booker and Eugenia Mitchell  Photo:Jackson Davis Papers, The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia Library; on display at The African American Cultural Resource Center at the North Sarasota Public Library


Newtown is a remarkable community that grew out of the first enclave established by African American people in Sarasota, Florida. It is a community that anchored itself to the three insti-tutions it held most dear: education, the church, and family.  


From its onset, Newtown faced the challenges of racism and segregation, which seemed to always wrest control from the community, leaving its destiny in the hands of others. Children

were educated in churches that doubled as schools because the larger school system did not serve them.

And yet, its proud, hard-working residents built a thriving, self-sufficient community — albeit one that was separate and distinct from the larger white community. Dedicated teachers, caring parents, and supportive churches created the foundation for a productive and sustainable community life.

The process of desegregation, hailed by many as a move toward equality, was devastating to the community as black schools were closed and students and teachers were moved to other neighborhoods. Businesses by the scores soon closed.
Now, Newtown, like many such older communities, is struggling with sustaining educational levels, keeping young people engaged and committed to staying in the community, and remaining stable

in the face of ongoing gentrification.

Many children are raised by grandparents who are not sufficently able to provide academic assistance, while others live with one parent who is either too young, too busy, or too inexperienced to provide necessary support or discipline at a crucial time in their children’s academic career.  

The majority of the children enter school sorely disadvantaged

and ultimately become high school drop-outs.  It is a cycle badly in need of a solution. But where to begin?  To a growing number of educators, the starting point is clear:  Give children what they

need to get them reading by the end of third grade.

In response to this need, in 2004 Greater Hurst Chapel A.M.E. Church initiated the SOAR Tutoring Program, led by Mrs. Jacquelyn Paulk. The program began in an old building with a small start-up fund and a volunteer staff. Just one year later it became a participating site for the 21st Century Learning Center Program

and was awarded Florida 21st Century Community Learning Centers Shining Star Volunteer Award.

Now, SOAR's new Jacquelyn Paulk Campus will enable students to reach their true potential, as the school becomes a model for effective reading readiness programs throughout the community, and even the nation.

To learn more about the history of the Newtown Community visit the wonderful site created by Vickie Oldham!  Newtown Alive.



Booker High School graduated its first four students in May of 1935.  Shown standing in front of the school are Marthena Riley and Naomi Williams (Carter), first row. Back row: Annie Mae Blue (McElroy) and A.L. Williams. On display at The African American Cultural Resource Center at the North Sarasota Public Library

Since 2004 SOAR Tutoring Center has operated out of this small house owned by the Greater Hurst Chapel AME Church located directly across the street from church on North Links Avenue.

bottom of page