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Sunday, June 16, 2024

A. Quinn Jones Museum and School hosts second annual Juneteenth film festival

Over 100 attended to view documentaries about local trailblazers in education

<p>Tayana Davis, Gloria Merriex’s daughter, speaks at the Juneteenth Film Festival on June 8, 2024.</p>

Tayana Davis, Gloria Merriex’s daughter, speaks at the Juneteenth Film Festival on June 8, 2024.

Under auditorium lights, community members gathered to celebrate Gainesville trailblazers in education and Black history.  

On June 8, the A. Quinn Jones Museum and Cultural Center and the A. Quinn Jones School hosted the second annual Juneteenth film festival in collaboration with the Gainesville Office of Equity and Inclusion and Gainesville Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs along with the Alachua County School Board and Public Information Office. 

With over 100 attendees, the event featured the short film “One More Time” and a documentary titled “Class of Her Own” as a part of Gainesville’s Journey to Juneteenth.

A panel discussion with Gainesville City Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker covered the current state of education and the importance of learning to “meet students where they are.” 

“I’m having this conversation with you now as a former student, as one who was impacted personally, because I think it’s important to hear once again that that makes such an incredible difference,” she said.

Carol Velasquez-Richardson, a Gainesville resident and organizer of the festival, brought the film festival back for a second year because “last year was such a hit,” she said. 

“Gainesville has so much to offer as far as culture,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to really just peer into that culture as we celebrate Juneteenth and the road to emancipation.” 

The event was hosted at a museum and school named for A. Quinn Jones, a Gainesville educator from 1915 to 1957. He served as the principal of Alachua County’s Lincoln High School, which became the second accredited Black high school in Florida to offer an education through 12th grade before its closure in 1970. Students were then split between Buchholz High School and Eastside High School for integration. 

“Anytime we can do programs that will bring the light on the history of Mr. Jones as well as the school, that is very important to me,” she said. 

Myqueal Lewis, a 25-year-old Gainesville resident, was the director and visual artist for the short film “One More Time,” which he said speaks on family, education and community. 

The film explored the history of the Eastside High School band, which received recognition for its HBCU-style traditions that mirrored Florida A&M University at the time, earning it the nickname of “Little FAMU.” 

Eastside, surrounded by historically Black communities, became one of the first two integrated high schools in Florida 20 years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

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The Richard E. Parker Eastside Alumni Band, named for its late founding director, still performs at parades, sports games and music festivals. 

Lewis graduated from Eastside High School, and he said its history hit close to home as he spoke with the alumni band members, he said. 

“To be able to see people who are still not only passionate about something they love but being passionate about the community as well,” he said. “I was really happy I was able to capture that.”

Boaz Dvir, director of the documentary “Class of Her Own,” went to UF in the early ‘80s. He said his perusal of the documentary began in late 2008. 

“Very few times in my life, especially on big projects, do I immediately say yes,” he said. 

The documentary follows Gloria Jean Merriex, a Gainesville native and teacher at Charles Duval Elementary School, which was located on the city’s east side in a neighborhood struggling with crime and poverty. 

After the passage of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, FCAT testing determined the grade of schools, rewarding “A” schools with increased funding and “F” schools with interventions. Duval Elementary was given an “F” rating the following year. 

“Class of Her Own” highlights Merriex’s transformative teaching styles, which included writing raps and dances to teach math vocabulary. She also saw to student’s non-academic needs, creating community outreach projects including parent instruction, cooking for her classes and sewing athletic uniforms. 

By 2003, Charles Duval Elementary was rated “A.” The school permanently adopted more of her teaching methods, and Merriex became an inspiration for teachers nationwide. 

Duval kept a streak of “A” grades in following years, but following Merriex’s death in 2008, the school received an “F.” 

During the creation of “Class of Her Own,” Boaz Divr said he felt ashamed he hadn’t known about the history of Charles Duval Elementary earlier in his career. 

“I say to people all the time, ‘Get to know your environment,’” he said. “People don’t do enough of that, and they should. It’s a very vital and enriching part of life.” 

Mary Merriex Harrison, Gloria Merriex’s sister, watched the film for the first time during the festival. 

“It’s inspiring to know she’s [Gloria] being recognized for a job well done,” she said. “She’s always in my heart.”

Eunice Noel, a 28-year-old Gainesville resident, attended the event to keep in touch with the community. She said she enjoyed learning about Gloria’s legacy.

“It wasn’t something like a one-time wonder,” she said. “I think that’s amazing.” 

Contact Sara-James Ranta at sranta@alligator.org. Follow her on X @sarajamesranta.

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Sara-James Ranta

Sara-James Ranta is a third-year journalism major, minoring in sociology of social justice and policy. Previously, she served as a general assignment reporter for The Alligator's university desk.


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