In St. Pete, history and heritage inform progress

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, featured
Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin

BY DR. KANIKA TOMALIN, Deputy Mayor

ST. PETERSBURG — This month we celebrate African American contributions made throughout the course of our nation’s history. We appropriately look back – hundreds of years and all points in between — at the good work of ancestors who paved the path toward our current progress.

As we work together to draft our city’s next chapter, it is important that we also examine our recent history right here at home, with reflection on the role each of us plays in St. Pete’s ongoing story.

Deputy Mayor Tomalin and Mayor Kriseman

Deputy Mayor Tomalin and Mayor Kriseman

Holding a key position in the top levels of government, in the city where I was raised, is an amazing opportunity that bears much meaning. It is the city where my parents were also raised and the place where their parents before them came of age.

As such, the progress our city pursues is personal. The history that informs that endeavor is my own. There is no distance between my story and those that unfold all around us. The readers of this paper that so expertly chronicles that history, are bound by this special truth. Nowhere is this universal connection more evident than in our work to uplift and advance south St. Petersburg.

Our efforts to restore vibrant commerce on 22nd Street, to reclaim an unyielding sense of community in Childs Park, to replenish the opportunities and access that once flowed down 34th Street to the Skyway are not new.

They are a continuation of decades of work to engineer opportunity and equity for all who call our city home. And, whether we’re talking Walmart or Happy Workers, Skyway Marina District or our schools, poverty and its closely-held social determinants, is the underlying indicator that determines outcomes in south St. Petersburg.

While progress has been made, more is needed to ensure advances are self-perpetuating and sustained. Until promise and possibilities outweigh the plight of poverty this will be our city’s story. So, it will always be a top priority for Mayor Rick Kriseman and our entire team.

We are in the midst of transformational change designed to end generational poverty in south St. Pete through an increase in access, education and opportunity. That means jobs, training, second chances, childcare, financial inclusion, affordable housing…the list of investments being made in the empowerment of our impoverished citizens is long.

This work requires steadfast continuity and commitment and must continue much longer than any mayor’s time of service. This is a consideration for our entire community – and a mandate for anyone who governs.

The great news is that the various stewards and stakeholders of our city’s economy have never worked more collaboratively to change the story. Mayor Kriseman, City Council, the Chamber of Commerce, 2020, the United Way, the Urban League, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and many others are engineering one-way pathways out of poverty. And, the collective empowerment that manifests through the impactful work of individuals is breathing equal life into south St. Pete’s resurgence.

From pioneers such as Annie Tyrell, Carla Bristol, Gloria Campbell, Toriano Parker, Lorene Office and Carolyn and Elihu Brayboy who are opening doors and stimulating the economy with thriving businesses on The Deuces; to soldiers such as Tony Macon, Eddie Pelham, Bro. John Muhammed, Jabbar Edmonds, Lewis Stephens, Jr., Tony Wells and Dr. Christopher Warren who are setting examples for our young people with excellence of their own – the people of south St. Pete are making a difference by making moves.

The continued guidance, engagement and facilitation of community angels such as Gwendolyn Reese, Albert Lee, Tahisia Scantling, Drs. Tonjua Williams and Kevin Gordon, Rene Flowers, Gypsy Gallardo and Deborah Figgs-Sanders light the way toward our community’s brightest future.

Innovation and inspiration from visionaries such as Revs. Louis Murphy, Clarence Williams, JC Pritchett, James Evans and Brian Brown illuminate the possibilities.

There are more names than space allowed here for the people who keep south St. Pete on course. The local history on which our children’s children will reflect is in good hands. But, we find ourselves at a crossroads, with several critical issues unfolding.

The economic landscape of south St. Pete calls for collaborative effort from all who care. A sustainable path forward will require the involvement of people within and outside our community, business and faith leaders, citizens and elected officials.

We will not be a city where past efforts are pitted against current for the purposes of political posturing. The issues we face are too real and the people we are serving too important, to be relegated to a rhetorical arena of political philosophy and debate. Over the years much has been done to impact economic conditions in south St. Pete. Every mayoral administration, dating back to Mayor Ulrich, has worked to address this defining aspect of our city. All of the efforts to date have made a difference. None of it has been enough. We know this because the demands for opportunity and advancement persist.

You’ll hear lots of rhetoric about philosophy. We’ll agree and disagree about approach. But, as it relates to outcomes, the truth is, there are only two sides in this fight. 1) Progress for people and their families via poverty eradication or 2) allowance for the problems that persist via poverty management. The Kriseman administration is working on the side of poverty eradication. There’s room on this side, to do this work, for everyone who loves our city and all of the people who call it home.

Next Thursday the City will host a community conversation to discuss next steps for Tangerine Plaza. I hope you’ll join this conversation. Urban Affairs Director Nikki Gaskin-Capehart is coordinating the effort to address all of the variables surrounding the plaza’s success. Any solution the City works toward will reflect the desires of the community. Your voice is needed.

But, politics have no place in this effort. We’ll continue to do all we can to reach our goal of being a city of opportunity for everyone who calls it home with a stayed focus on the people who called us to this privilege to serve in the first place.

This work before us is our generation’s contribution to our city’s history. South St. Pete’s future waits for us, all of us, to get it right.

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