Baha'i News -- Speaking Out: Front Porch Florida Saturday, July 27, 2002

Speaking Out: Front Porch Florida

By Brian Dassler and Alice Primack

(Brian Dassler is a graduate student at the University of Florida who is working with Leadership Florida on the Faces of Florida Project. Alice Primack is a librarian at the UF and community activist.)

A growing group of Gainesville residents met again recently to discuss ways to combat racism in our community.

The group included representatives from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the University of Florida, Santa Fe Community College, Three Rivers Legal Services, the NAACP, Front-Porch Florida, Leadership Florida and others. All of those present agreed that prejudice and discrimination remain major concerns for Gainesville and Alachua County.

One needs only to scan local headlines in the last two weeks to discover the depth of racism that continues to plague our community.

A national NAACP lawsuit charging a disproportionate number of black students in special education in Florida schools, including Alachua County's, serves as one

example. A report from UF's Campus Climate Committee that recommends cultural competency training for all UF staff and students underscores the challenges faced by the University of Florida.

Black residents continue to report problems in receiving city services, and many in the community - black, white, Hispanic, etc - have called on the City of Gainesville to make the City's equal opportunity director a Charter officer.

The problems that exist with respect to racism are undoubtedly entrenched; the legacy of hate runs deep in every community, including our own. Nevertheless, there is cause for tremendous hope, and we have been heartened by the Gainesville residents who have given their time and talents to healing the wounds of the past and the present while building an inclusive community.

Even while more work is needed, there is much work already being done.

Some of these important projects include:

The "Building Cultural Bridges" curriculum materials are a project of the Bahai group. Part of this program will be piloted this fall in area middle schools, and the program will be offered to other schools next year.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship has a focus in its Social Concerns Committee this year called "Putting a Face on Racism" in which there are a number of ongoing efforts including education of the congregation. This has also broadened out to a coummunity-wide program of "Study Circles" about racism in which small diverse groups meet for a series of discussions in which they get to know each other and look at some local problems and possible actions.

The "Front Porch Florida" project has a group of citizens working in the Duval Elementary School neighborhood. This group has cleaned up and beautified, volunteered in the school, and brought neighbors together to plan future projects.

*Leadership Florida's statewide project this year is called "Faces of Florida" and aims to help us all recognize and appreciate the benefits of diversity in our community.

The Alachua County NAACP's current project challenges the public schools to end the special ed assignments of black children who do not need those services and are not receiving an equal education in those classes.

Several ministers in town have brought together their churches into an ACTION Network. This organization of 13 congregations brings together clergy and congregations from all economic, racial and theological perspectives into an exuberant, supportive team committed to identifying top-priority neighborhood needs and then working to get responsible government agencies and officials to address those needs.

A ballot initiative to create a position of Equal Opportunity Officer is in progress and will be on the ballot in November.

Areas we have identified as needing more attention include making the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College campuses, as well as the public schools, more aware and inclusive in terms of racial diversity. Work with the police and other city and county employees is needed to ensure equal, fair, treatment of all races.

The informal anti-racism coordinating group plans a third meeting on August 8, at the downtown public Library, from 6-8pm in meeting room B. If you are working with an action group, or if you have a particular interest in helping with racial issues in Gainesville and Alachua County, please join us. For more information, or for contact information about any of the existing groups mentioned here, do get in touch with either of the writers at dassler@ufl.edu, or primacks@prodigy.net.


©Copyright 2002, Gainsville Sun

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