As Gainesville celebrates its 150th anniversary, let’s look toward a better future.
Gainesville’s 150th anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the impact of past actions while charting a better future.
Education and transportation played key roles in Gainesville’s history. The construction of a railroad through the area led to the county seat being moved here, while the University of Florida’s decision to locate in Gainesville led to growth that continues today.
The construction of Interstate 75 contributed to uneven development patterns between east and west Gainesville, exacerbating racial disparities rooted in a history of slavery and segregation. The “Racial Inequity in Alachua County” report issued last year by the Friendship Seven coalition of community institutions showed that these disparities remain a problem in areas such as employment, housing, policing and schools.
The Alachua County Branch of the NAACP and the Racial Justice Task Force of the United Church of Gainesville are hosting a town hall meeting on the report Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Thelma Boltin Center. They have invited members of the Friendship Seven to discuss how their organizations have addressed the disparities outlined in the report and consider additional steps they and others might take.
While the groups behind the report deserve credit for the wake-up call it provided, others in our community still have much work to do. For example, Alachua County Public Schools are experiencing a racial achievement gap that has been the worst in the state, something that should alarm all residents.
The School Board’s approval of an equity plan in August was a critical component in closing the gap. But more must be done by the district with the help of parents, volunteers and local organizations, something that new funding should help accelerate.
Last fall, Alachua County voters passed a ballot initiative to fund services for children. With the Children’s Trust board starting to meet to determine what programs should be funded, an emphasis should be placed on pre-K, after-school and summer programs.
The CHILD Center for Early Learning in the Linton Oaks neighborhood is an example of how institutions such as UF and community groups such as the Southwest Advocacy Group can partner in such efforts. UF is also working with the school district, Children’s Home Society of Florida, Santa Fe College and Alachua County Health Department on a community partnership school at Howard Bishop Middle School to provide services to students and their families.
Building on such efforts is key to addressing the disparities described in the “Racial Inequity” report. The Sun-sponsored Gainesville For All initiative has launched the Gainesville Empowerment Zone in the neighborhoods around Howard Bishop, in a bid to expand the services there and extend them into elementary schools.
As the town hall meeting looks at next steps in reducing disparities, these kinds of efforts should be considered. UF’s presence in Gainesville created the city we have today, so it is only right that the university plays a leadership role in working with other institutions on making it a better community for all residents.
originally posted by: The Gainesville Sun