The St. Petersburg renaissance has been in full swing for more than a decade. We’ve excelled in many areas and struggled in others. In our series St. Pete 2.0, we’re partnering with the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership to explore what lies on the other side of our potential – what will it take to move to the “next level” as a city? Through this series, we’ll dig into specific topics with the hope that you, our thoughtful citizens, will share your insight, experience and wisdom.
The past year has been turbulent as communities across the country – including St. Petersburg – have reckoned with systemic racism, inequity and injustice. While some meaningful actions have been taken to address these issues, such as a renewed emphasis on supporting Black-owned businesses and the introduction of body cameras for law enforcement officers, many residents agree that there’s still a long way to go in building a community that’s truly equitable for everyone.
In part one of our St. Pete 2.0 survey results, we learned that the events of the past year have caused a number of people to reexamine their attitudes on race, with many gaining a new awareness of how Black residents are treated by police. We also found that, overall, respondents feel like the city is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly, in terms of creating a positive, inclusive environment for all residents. But for that progress to continue, the business community – especially white business leaders – needs to step up in terms of promoting diversity in their workforces and providing a welcoming environment for customers and clients.
The second part of our survey results asked respondents to consider what they’ve done personally to address racial inequity over the past year, as well as what the community can do in the future to ensure that St. Pete continues to make progress in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. Here’s what we discovered:
Based on your experiences and observations over the past year, what personal actions have you taken to address racial inequity in our city and society?
Overwhelmingly, most respondents said they’ve done at least something to address racial inequity, whether it’s reading a book on how to be anti-racist, joining a discussion group, shopping at Black-owned businesses or participating in demonstrations.
“I had the rewarding opportunity to march with Black Live Matter and shoot and share drone footage of the marches, along with working on a television show produced locally that elevates marginalized voices of perceived diversity with the Your Real Stories team,” wrote Myco Focal.
Several commenters shared that they’ve become more involved politically.
“I have been a precinct leader to help get out the vote in District 70 and I was a member of the leadership team to get the only candidate of color elected to the school board,” Kim Cromwell wrote.
Danny White shared that he’s serving on the newly formed Council of Neighborhood Associations diversity committee, and is also an active contributor to the work of the Pinellas Community Remembrance Project Coalition, while another commenter wrote about becoming a more active participant in meetings at the city, county and state level.
A number of people said they’re taking a more active role in the conversation when topics of race are brought up.
“I’ve become more vocal in the spaces I occupy at work and on campus, as well as joining clubs to help create a healthy dialog between communities of color and predominantly white spaces,” wrote a respondent named Fay.
Amy Walsh said she’s used the events of the past year as an opportunity to educate herself on race-related issues, and to speak out against things that are unfair.
“I’ve been paying more attention and not standing by silently enduring and witnessing racial injustices as I might have done in the past,” she said. “I participated in the Black Lives Matter marches and I hung a sign on my front door and made it my Facebook profile photo. It says ‘Be the change | Black Lives Matter.’”
Josette Green has also immersed herself in the fight against systemic racism.
“As a white woman, I intentionally moved into a traditionally Black community and became involved as an ally,” she said. “When it was suggested I hold a high-level position in a community organization, I instead promoted a Black woman and she now has the role. I use my white voice to speak to any injustice that I see, especially in a community that has long been overlooked.”
What additional public policies should be enacted to end systemic racism?
This question elicited a wide variety of responses with nearly everyone suggesting something different. Here’s a sampling of what commenters had to say:
“Young single mothers of all races should have instruction on how to access child support enforcement from the absent parent. It can take decades, but it shall be collected by the state. Library mobiles should be in every neighborhood on a regular and frequent basis. Computer access and hot spots should be available as well. Smaller buses on more frequent routes would be helpful. More job training and job placement centers should exist.” – Anonymous
“How about the City of St. Petersburg funding the building of the new Carter Woodson Museum?” – Drexey Smith
“Banning excessive force from officers, holding them accountable and implementing body cams. Putting the same amount of effort and funding into oppositional groups as they do BLM protestors. Having social workers show up with officers for wellness checks.” – Fay
“Tear down I-375, and it would be an unacceptable and negligent tragedy to merely give lip service during the Tropicana Field site redevelopment. Our city would truly benefit the most, holistically, if a genuinely and deeply inclusive process were implemented on what is essentially a quarter of our most urban space.” – Focal
“Creating diverse coalitions to tackle the issues that face our community on every level: education, business, the arts, athletics, law enforcement, healthcare. Continue to bring people together in public ways to work together to continue to bring positive changes to St Pete.” – Cromwell
“Home ownership should be addressed so gentrification does not rob low income areas of their history.” – Anonymous
“The city has long overlooked the infrastructure of Black communities. The first public policy is to bring all areas of our city up to the same standard in regard to infrastructure. Why is it that three-quarters of the alleys in the Old Northeast are paved and not a single alley in Campbell Park is paved? Giving attention to what has long been overlooked tells the residents that finally the city is paying attention and cares. It’s a start.” – Green
“Emphasize education, good job and trade training. That equals higher pay, equals a strong tax base and equals a good place to live.” Anonymous
“Policy will not end systematic racism. Opportunities need to be provided for dialog to take place to change hearts and attitudes.” Basha Jordan Jr.
How can we continue to move from talking to doing?
Many commenters agreed that it’s important to keep having conversations around issues of race and bringing more diverse groups to the table to have their voices heard. However, several observed that taking the step from talking to doing is an uphill battle, especially based on what they’ve seen so far.
“Talk is cheap,” one person wrote. “And it’s easy to provide.”
Wrote another: “Put up or shut up. It’s just that simple.”
“How many conversations have I attended that we talk about the situation – the segregation, the racism, the experience of the Black man, etc. and nothing is changing. I’m frustrated,” she shared. “Top leaders have to be confronted, held accountable and metrics established for what needs to be accomplished. Bring top business leaders together and help them establish new policies and metrics and continue the meetings to see what is being accomplished.”
Cromwell, who said that issues of diversity need to be treated with the same urgency as financial matters and other key priorities, shared a similar sentiment.
“We need to establish clear goals and outcomes, fund them and measure progress,” she wrote. “And we need to be transparent.”
Walsh believes that answer lies in electing enlightened public officials, including more diverse voices in decision making and educating and empowering residents to be anti-racists, while Keith Lucas said that engaging youth in the community is key.
“They have a better chance of changing things moving forward,” he wrote. “Older generations are too entrenched in their beliefs and biases to change in a meaningful way.”
What can our downtown community do to ensure that our urban center is welcoming to all, but especially to those who have faced discrimination in the past?
There’s no one solution to such a complex question. However, many respondents said the business community will play a vital role in ensuring the downtown area is welcoming to everyone.
“Have downtown business groups meet with the Black community and get advice, then take action,” wrote one commenter.
Jordan suggested incentives such as reduced rents be offered to minorities interested in opening up a business downtown, while Fay wrote that businesses that are being discriminatory need to be held accountable for their actions.
A number of commenters said that if the city can figure out a way to communicate and truly show support in welcoming Black residents downtown, the problem could be solved. However, the challenge is on how to actually do that.
“How does one pick up on cues about where people are welcome? There are other people that look like them there,” Cromwell wrote. “We have to figure out how to increase the presence of and our commitment to people of color in our community. Encourage the use of downtown space for young diverse groups to meet. Find ways to bring more people of color downtown.”
White said he “makes it his business” to cruise Central Avenue from 34th St to 1st St with the objective of observing the diversity of people along segments of the avenue.
“It is blatantly clear that the separation of race and class are factors along this stretch of roadway that has come to be the epicenter of St. Petersburg’s economic renaissance. This is especially true from the Grand Central corridor to the Edge District to the downtown proper corridor,” he wrote. “I personally know Black people who feel shut out of the boom, whether housing or entertainment. Why? Because they do not see themselves in the ranks of developers or store/services/restaurant/gallery ownership along the entire avenue. That’s a huge problem.”
Several people suggested that optics can go a long way in creating a welcoming environment.
“A visible education campaign with banners or reclaiming green benches as welcoming to everyone and a variety of established and pop-up businesses that cater to a diverse customer base,” Walsh envisioned.
Smith recommended putting more Black and Brown people on signage downtown.
“Downtown St. Petersburg has become very rich and white,” she wrote. “I don’t know how you’re going to change that.”
Ultimately, however, it’s up to each individual to do what they can to make the downtown area a place where all residents, regardless of race, can feel comfortable and included. Green shared two instances where she observed minorities being the target of racial slurs, and stressed the importance of speaking out against these types of behaviors.
“These have to stop as no one is welcome in this environment,” she said. “The downtown community has to call it out.”