Private groups raise public awareness of Mary McLeod Bethune statue

While many residents have visited the News-Journal Center over the past month to view the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune destined for National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., an important part of the local exhibition have been private events bringing large groups together to share the experience.

For the Rotary Club of Daytona Beach, the experience was made even more significant by a presentation from sculptor Nilda Comas.

Comas, the first Hispanic sculptor chosen to create a piece for National Statuary Hall, told the Rotarians about her motivations to create the marble statue and her growing affection for Mary McLeod Bethune.

“This has been a labor of love,” Comas said. “It has been a beautiful journey.”

Comas talked about the passion for art and sculpture she had at an early age and the rigorous training required to work with marble.

“It takes a lot of learning to carve marble,” she said. “I think I was preparing my whole life to do a project just like this.”

Comas said she always dreamed of creating something timeless and important and her selection as the artist to carve the sculpture of Mary McLeod Bethune offered the opportunity.

“I wanted to do sculpture that would leave a mark,” she said.

For Comas, the flash of inspiration for the project came while visiting the Library of Congress and hearing Bethune’s voice on a recording. She said while Bethune had a strong presence, she had a “sweetness” as well.

“She was not just an intelligent woman, she had a heart,” Comas said. “She also has that strength and the first thing that show ucation.”

Comas said she hopes having the statue on display for the local community, as well as when it is installed in the U.S. Capitol  will inspire future generations of artists.

“How many times does a little child get to see a sculpture in marble?” she said. “Maybe that will inspire them.”

Bringing the project to fruition – including the Daytona Beach exhibit – has been inspiring for Bob Lloyd, a member of the Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund and executive vice president and general counsel at Brown & Brown Insurance.

“This is very meaningful,” Lloyd said of the exhibit and the opportunity for groups like the Rotarians to see the statue. “It’s an overused expression, but this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Lloyd said opening the exhibit to private functions not only raises the profile of the statue, it helps spread the word about the exhibit.

“We talk about social media and we talk about the media coverage we’ve gotten,which is great, but it’s word of mouth that really generates interest,” he said. “You tell one person how it impacts you and soon the word spreads and people show up.”

Nancy Lohman, president of the Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, said having private events is “crucial” for the exhibit.

“It is an easy way to get a lot of people together so it’s kind of a natural way to have the number of visitors increase, but I also think it’s a shared human experience.”

Lohman said organizations like the Rotary Club also help spread the word because its members are involved in other community groups.

She said while people have a lot of things to do, it is important to take the time to experience the Bethune statue while it is in Daytona Beach.

“Take the time out of your day, see the statue, appreciate the statue and learn from the exhibit,” she said. “Increase your awareness of Dr. Bethune and learn to live your life in her footsteps.”

The exhibit runs through Dec. 12. Admission is free and ticket information is available at

Free Admission

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Exhibit

Where: Daytona Beach News-Journal Center, 221 N Beach St, Daytona Beach, FL 32114

When: Oct. 12th, 2021 – Dec. 12th, 2021

Reserve Free Tickets → Exhibit Details →