Click the arrow above to hear the full conversation between Tim Dutton, executive director of Unite Pinellas and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst
About four years ago, the Tampa Bay Times published a bombshell investigative series called Failure Factories. Those stories, which uncovered inequalities in Pinellas County Schools, specifically around five primarily black elementary schools in South St. Petersburg, spawned the creation of a coalition of some of the most influential organizations in Pinellas County.
That coalition, funded by the Juvenile Welfare Board, Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and United Way Suncoast, brought together municipalities, nonprofits, and concerned citizens to unite and fight for equity, justice and fairness. The organization became Unite Pinellas.
Tim Dutton solidified that formation when he came on board as executive director of the organization in January 2018.
Since early 2018, Unite Pinellas has been busy. In April 2019, the organization published an Equity Profile of Pinellas County, and gathered 350 people together to hear the results of that report. They’ve been convening meetings, examining data and determining ways that they can move the needle toward greater equity in Pinellas County.
According to Dutton, there are three main tools, or levers, at the organization’s disposal. First, Dutton said, because equity/inequity is a fabrication resulting from national public policy, local and national public policy is one lever to create change. Second, not just policies but practices in industries, businesses, and organizations have a major impact. Revising practices like discriminatory lending can lead to greater equity. Third, as a country, the United States is deeply entrenched in the narrative of blame. Language of blame surrounds those who do not succeed economically because of a meritocratic system. Oftentimes, this leads to a failure to understand lack of opportunity.
Unite Pinellas is in the process of discerning the systemic issues it will address over the next few years. But Dutton says that Pinellas residents are relatively open and ready for conversations about equity, disparity and fairness.
Dutton is particularly interested in tackling an issue that has recently gained national attention: the fees and fines imposed by governments to increase their revenue. According to Dutton, since 1996, more than 20 new fees and fines were imposed by the state of Florida, and failure to pay these fines has in some places led to mass incarceration.
Listen to the full conversation with Tim Dutton and Joe Hamilton above, take a look at Unite Pinellas’ Pinellas County Equity Profile here.