Spotlight: Susie Forehand-The Orlando Times
Women’s History Month Spotlight: Susie Forehand
A Pioneer Paves The Way For Minority Nursing Students
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
ORLANDO - With a historical career, Susie Forehand has been an advocate for quality nursing education. In addition to educating thousands of students, she paved the way for them to go out into the community to serve with her same dedication.
After graduating from Jones High School in 1963, she dreamt of becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) however
segregation and poverty made that goal almost impossible.
“Coming up we were very poor, some days we didn’t have food to eat,” she said. “We knew that life had to be better
than what we had so we planned to go to college. We knew we could do it if we put our minds to it and put God
Born in Lovett, FL, she was the second oldest child of Elijah and Annie Ruth Boatman’s seven children. Her uncle,
who pastored at Bethel M.B. Church in Orlando sent for her father to come pick oranges, so he left sharecropping
and the family moved to the city.
She began working on Saturday while in high school, she would work eight hours for a dollar an hour. She gave a portion of it to her parents, sent some to her brother who was attending college, and saved the rest for herself.
Before graduating she met Clifford Forehand in her Algebra class, he went to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division, as a paratrooper. He would visit home and eventually the two were married in 1963.
With the help of a $400 scholarship she packed up and went to Daytona where she did housework to send herself to college.
“Back in the day things were segregated so I could not go directly to a college around here,” she said. “I went to Volusia County Community College, which was all Black, and I became a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).”
Spending the first two years of their marriage apart, due to the military and school, once settled back in Orlando they had their two sons Eric, 52, and Darin, 51.
“She has had a great influence on all those that she touches,” said Darin DeWayne Forehand, her son. “Her willingness to help and her constant professionalism is something I admire immensely about my mother.”
By this time she still had the goal to be a Registered Nurse (RN) but no programs were available to her, so she began working at Orange Memorial Hospital (OMH), now the Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC), for 10 years starting as an LPN.
While at OMH in 1966 she faced a lot of prejudice. All the African- American patients and staff were housed in the basement of the hospital. Eventually, they were moved to the second floor and the young Black nurses started treating white patients.
“They would call us the n-word all the time but nope they weren’t going to do that to me,” she said. “But I did my job well, so they couldn’t fire me, but they never promoted me because I was Black. I had to put my fighting gloves on every day when I went to work.”
Valencia College opened their nursing program and in 1975 she earned her Associates Degree in its third graduating class. Meanwhile, she continued working at ORMC, now as an RN in the critical care unit. While there she was also one of the nurses that opened a burn unit in 1976.
Valencia later invited her to teach part-time in the clinical setting.
At this time, the University of South Florida (USF) opened a bachelor’s program in nursing where she earned her B.S.N. Her next goal was to teach nursing.
She attended Florida Technological University, now called the University of Central Florida, and received her Master’s in Education in 1980. However, she still needed her Master’s in Nursing to teach in the classroom.
Eventually, the Dean at USF invited her to join their master’s program for nursing and she graduated class of 1982.
After UCF opened their nursing program nearly half of the faculty from Valencia transferred, leaving a full-time position available. In 1982 she became the first African-American nursing professor at Valencia and for 20 years she was the only one. She worked there until her retirement from teaching in 2011.
“She’s like a bulldog, when she grabs onto something she is going to see it to the finish and she will put a lot of energy into it,” said Clifford Forehand, her husband. “She’s a great wife and a great mother. She takes care of me, no matter what it is.”
Her commitment to excellence and service further her legacy.
“Ms. Forehand is just awesome,” said Eloise Abrahams, one of her former students. “She was a no nonsense tough-type of instructor but underneath that toughness she truly cares about her students. She’s truly one of my greatest role models.”
In Central Florida she participated in the Civil Rights movement during the Dr. Martin Luther King era of peaceful protest alongside her brother and other juniors and seniors from Jones High.
“I got arrested when I was 17 years old,” she said. “We sat down at the counter and we would ask for a sandwich and drink and they would say no we don’t serve people like you. That day I was sitting there, and I had bought myself a coat with my little $8 I made on Saturday and this woman came with a dish cloth and wet my coat up and I wanted to cry but I didn’t, and we sat there anyway. So, they closed the counter and called the police.”
Eventually, due to their hard work and other economic circumstances, the “Black & white” signs were removed, and local lunch counters were opened to serve all patrons.
“Take care of [yourself] spiritually, emotionally, and don’t depend on man for your resources depend on God in your life,” she said when asked what advice she would give to women.
She also taught a class called Culture and Ethnicity and wanted to teach her students through personal experiences, so she began traveling. She has visited Spain, Greece, Mexico, and England. A colleague later invited her to Hong Kong, Japan, and other Asian countries. With the Black Nurses Association, she traveled to Nigeria, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Senegal, and the Congo to do research on hypertension in Blacks in Africa. She has also gone to Peru and visited Machu Pichu.
She believes that the medical field has evolved greatly since she began in it, as there are more minorities working in the field, but she wishes to see more of them in leadership positions.
Her work has been recognized through multiple community service and education awards including: Nursing Excellence, Outstanding Nursing Educator, Outstanding Instructor of the Year, and more. She was also nominated as Woman of the Year and was on the board of MedTech Institute when she delivered the address for their 2015 graduating class at the CFE Arena.
Ms. Forehand is a member of The American and Florida Nurses Associations as well as The National and Central Florida Black Nurses Associations. She is also a member of the Valencia Foundation and Sigma Theta Tau, a nursing sorority.
Since retiring from Valencia she still conducts nursing and female empowerment workshops which are open to the community.
“She is the nicest person I know, always willing to give as much as she can give,” said Rose Cooper, her friend. “She’s a good Christian that lives the Christian life.”
Via the Valencia Foundation she has a scholarship in her name that supports nursing students who are in need.
An avid dog lover, she has two dogs, Ms. Oreo and Mr. Koko. Sadly, she had to put her other dog Mr. Pepper to sleep when he was 5 years old.
She currently lives in the Dr. Phillips area and regularly attends Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Winter Park, as she has been for 45 years. She and her husband have been happily married for 54 years.
Should you wish to donate to her scholarship please visit: https://donate.valencia.org/Susie