Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday March 20th 2019

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The Role of a Lifetime

By Sydney Robinson

After a life full of analytics, entrepreneurship and hard work, Ersula Knox Odom’s career has come full circle.

Through portraying the life of an African-American woman with a fantastic legacy, Odom is creating a legacy of her own.

As part of, Tampa-based Odom will be portraying the life of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.

In “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Comes to Life,” Odom explores the life of a woman who nurtured African-American education, rights and perceptions in the 20th century. And she will do it all in costume and in character.

“Engaging, thought-provoking and funny at times”—that’s how Odom summed up the show.

Because it covers all those bases, Odom says she’s confident it appeals to a broad audience.
“From the person who is interested in the educational aspect to the person who wants to be entertained, either one will enjoy it. It’s intellectual and entertaining and interactive. [It’s for] all ages. Today I spoke to senior citizens; tomorrow I am speaking to elementary school students,” Odom told Inweekly.

There’s no doubt the event is all of the above and more when you consider how much there is to learn about Dr. Bethune. She was a woman born to slaves who, through intelligence and drive, earned a position at the White House in a time when she wouldn’t have been admitted to a soda parlor.

Odom will share stories of Dr. Bethune’s role in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, including working on the New Deal and founding his “black cabinet.” Bethune also served as president of the National Association of Colored Women and founded and served as president of the National Council of Negro Women.

Mary Riker, WSRE’s marketing and communications director, says WSRE’s Public Square Speakers Series is devoted to bringing noteworthy voices to town and giving people the chance to experience important perspectives. She thinks Odom’s show will do just that.

“Ersula Odom’s portrayal of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune on March 5 is timed perfectly to kick off Women’s History Month,” Riker told Inweekly.

Odom hopes that her event will raise awareness about an impactful woman many don’t know much about.

“Dr. Bethune’s story is a legendary story and is a national treasure because she has impacted all of our lives regardless of who you are,” Odom said.

Odom’s one-woman show portraying Bethune began in 2006 when she says friends urged her to audition for the part, drawing on her college experience learning about the performative arts.

“Friends of mine asked me to audition for it, and I didn’t even know who she was outside of Bethune-Cookman University and FAMU. When I found out who she was, I was totally impressed, and I applied. They accepted me, and I’ve been doing it since,” she recalled.

Odom says she very much enjoys her life now as a publisher and as a performer portraying Dr. Bethune.

“I’m a very content person right now. I had a wonderful career that dealt with the analytical side of my brain, and now I’ve returned to the creative side of my brain,” Odom said.

Since returning to the creative side, Odom has continued with dozens of performances as Dr. Bethune yearly, most of which occur around and during Black History Month.

In the process of exploring and honoring Bethune’s life, Odom says she may have played a part in preserving her legacy in D.C. forever—in the form of a statue that was just recently approved.

“Last year, Senator Nelson presented me with a signed copy of what he read to get that [statue] approved to Congress … I can’t take credit for any of the actions, but I will say that over the years, a lot more people have learned about her because of my performances, and maybe someone was inspired,” said Odom. “I don’t want to take credit, but I played my role. I did my part.”

After over a decade playing the role, Odom says she’s still learning more about the amazing woman she portrays.

“She had such a full life that I’m still learning about her. I’ve only scratched the surface,” she said.

WSRE’s Public Square Speakers Series Presents: “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Comes to Life”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5
WHERE: Jean & Paul Amos Performance Studio at Pensacola State College, 1000 College Blvd.
COST: Free
INFO: wsre.org/events