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Monday, April 22, 2024

Black Gainesville leaders urge students to not forget Black history

A panel of 4 invoked stories, called for action

Members of the Gainesville community joined together over conversations and a hot meal to ensure this Black History Month is more about action and less about simple remembrance. 

A panel of some of Gainesville’s most prominent Black advocates took on conversations and questions as a part of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program Monday evening. The four panelists — Cotton Club Museum founder Vivian Filer, Oak Hall School social studies teacher Marna Weston and activists Kali Blount and Chanae Jackson —also discussed education and public health. 

The event, meant to prevent the whitewashing of history, was one of two SPOHP events hosted at the Cotton Club Museum from January to February. The panelists sat before about 100 people at 17 round tables. Those people held on to every word spoken over the sound system. 

“A powerhouse of community members right here, right now,” Adolfho Romero, co-assistant director of SPOHP, said of the panel and the audience.

The crowd included college students, members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, concerned residents and City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker.

Vote Alachua and The Alachua County Labor Coalition also had tables to distribute pamphlets and information. There was an option to register for or renew voter's licenses. 

Teaching African studies is increasingly more important now that the curriculum in the state of Florida has been cut down, SPOHP Director Paul Ortiz said. It no longer includes Black Feminism or Black Lives Matter. 

Florida officials recently blocked the AP African American Studies course's implementation in Florida High Schools, a motion Gov. Ron DeSantis supported. 

Education was at the forefront of discussion for the night. The panelists urged Black students to maintain their individuality throughout their schooling, especially UF students. The most vocal on the topic was Jackson, a registered Gainesville real estate agent.

Jackson said she’d labeled herself “The Accidental Activist” since her son was detained by the Gainesville Police Department in 2018. She rallied support to have Clovis Watson elected as the first Black Sheriff of Alachua County.

Jackson also described instances of poor health care at UF clinics in East Gainesville. She recalled a story of a woman who went two years with undetected breast cancer. The clinic lacked the resources to identify her condition as she went those years being told she had an infection, she said.  

That was after Jackson insisted her fellow panelists tell the truth and avoid “pulling the punches” on the hard realities experienced by Black Americans.

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To her right sat Filer, Blount and Weston, all prominent figures of the Black community in Gainesville. 

Blount, a career nurse of 22 years at Shands Hospital, shared a similar sentiment. Whenever UF employees or students come into the Black community, he said, they put Black residents under a microscope to be studied. 

He recalled a moment from his time working in sports medicine at UF. Ben Hill Griffin, the namesake of UF’s football stadium, told the people working under him that there should never be a Black quarterback playing for the university, Blount said. 

As a nurse, Blount was particularly vocal about the lack of primary health care in East Gainesville. He pointed to already existing clinics and plans for new clinics as poor solutions to what is needed.

Filer, who also spent her 20s as a nurse at Shands,  echoed these health concerns. 

“We don’t need a doctor in a box,” she said. 

Contact Jake at jlynch@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JakeLyn20488762.

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Jake Lynch

Jake Lynch is a third-year journalism major. He is a South Florida native that loves to spend time with family and friends. He has no idea what he wants to do with his life but he hopes this helps.


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