Kanika Jelks-Tomalin was born and raised in St. Petersburg. As a member of her family’s fifth generation living in the city, she’s surrounded by more than 250 relatives. Some of those relatives are in the top percentile, while others live in poverty. That’s exactly the reason why Tomalin has a passion to “change the story of St. Pete.”
Raised by people who she says pushed through segregation and social injustice to become successful, Tomalin feels compelled to share her story that St. Pete is a place where hard work does pay off.
Tomalin is deputy mayor of the city under Mayor Rick Kriseman, a surprising job turn from her previous role in government relations for a hospital and before that, a full-time journalist. “It was never part of my dream to have this job, nor the job before,” she admits. “But it’s important to follow one’s passion. You have to strike away expectations of titles and focus on the why instead of the what; why it moves you.”
Around 25% of St. Petersburg’s population is impoverished, that’s more than 60,000 residents. That’s why Tomalin’s main goal is poverty eradication. She hopes to reduce poverty by 30% in the city by 2020.
“It begins and ends with opportunity,” Tomalin says. Just paying a light bill or addressing a food shortage won’t cut it, and only addresses a one-time need, she adds. The city is currently focused on bigger initiatives to solve the problem, working on skill building and education opportunities.
Until St. Pete’s story of opportunity changes, Tomalin continues to focus on the issue, she says. “I’m called to make a difference.”
— Traci McMillan Beach
City of residence: St. Petersburg
Twitter handle: @stpetetomalin
Birthplace: St. Petersburg
Years on the Gulf Coast: 39 – with a few years away at various times for college and early-stage career
Marital status/children: married to Terry Tomalin for 15 awesome years; two children: Kai, 13; Nia, 10
Alma mater: Florida A&M undergrad (journalism); University of Miami (M.B.A.); Northeastern University (Doctorate – Law & Policy, D.LP)
Best place to network: Kahwa Coffee South. In downtown St. Pete this cool little coffee shop serves as an unofficial office for everyone in town. In addition to the person you’re there to meet, you’ll always run into at least two to three other people on your “I’ve got to connect with” list.
Coolest business experience: Delivering a TED Talk at “TEDx Poynter
The most important business lesson I’ve learned: There are no substitutes for preparation and performance. Period. The laws of the universe will always deliver what our actions have ordered. Most often, that is opportunity, and it rarely comes wrapped in a pretty little package.
One website that makes your job easier: Tampabay.com – most days.
One community group you’re most involved with: When I accepted my position as Deputy Mayor I resigned various board seats to ensure no conflict of interest. Those organizations included: American Stage Professional theater company; St. Petersburg College Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions; Bayfront Health, Education and Research Organization; Pinellas County Urban League and others. I continue to support all of them, just in a different capacity.
Favorite off-hours activity: Spending time with my incredible family; immediate and extended. My husband and children are superior people who inspire me to do, give and be my best. My extended family includes about 250 relatives, most reside within a 10 mile section of South St. Petersburg. When we get together, it is a GREAT time!
Two people, dead or alive, you’d like to have dinner with: Audrey Hepburn and Marianne Williamson
Best award you ever received: Being named one of Florida’s Most Powerful & Influential Women by the National Diversity Council
Most adventurous thing you’ve ever done: Ditch plans to go to law school to marry my awesome husband, who is different from me in every way, but perfectly matched in all the ways that matter. By following my bliss I’ve found my best life.
What’s at the top of your bucket list: It’s an equally split tie, mainly because one is such a short-term goal and the other...who knows?!? 1. Party like a rock star in Paris for my 40th! 2. Impact the lives of others in exponential ways through philanthropy.
What new skill would you like to learn: piano, not tinkering from lessons long forgotten; but serious virtuoso-level skill.
Who would play you in a movie about your life: Kerry Washington...right? I don’t know...
If I had a magic wand I’d: put an end to poverty in my community via the creation of perpetuating opportunity for all who call St. Petersburg home.