The city’s fiscal year 2017 budget process served as another reminder of how the African- American community continues to be devalued, humiliated and marginalized when attempting to play a meaningful role in the revitalization of our community.
The script has remained the same. Our demographics are used to bring money into our communities for our community, but those funds are often diverted outside of it.
In the Thursday, Sept. 22 budget meeting, the public experienced the institutional dismissal first hand. The charade began when the Deuces Live and Warehouse Arts District (WADA) celebrated a joint $136,000 funding victory to hire a consultant to develop a Deuces/WADA master plan.
The results of this joint partnership came after WADA’s funding request came to the city council as a consent agenda in April of this year. When questions arose about the funding request, the group was forced to go back and play nice with the Deuces board.
It worked, four months later the two groups appeared in council chambers joined at the hip, poised to take down any community member who dared to stand against their forged partnership to acquire funding to hire a consultant to develop a master plan for the two groups, which have the historic 22nd Street Corridor as their major redevelopment focus.
All was well until the entire budget and the capital improvement budget came up at approximately 8:30 p.m. To the public and even the Deuces’ board surprise, Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman revealed there was another $1 million in the budget for WADA only.
The few remaining in council chambers were mortified. The night was not lost though for the Deuces. Recognizing their hands had been caught in the proverbial cookie jar, motions started flying around to now include the Deuces. The obvious shamble resulted in the Deuces being included in the plan.
The insults to the African-American community did not stop there. In the city’s budget states early childhood education received a $250,000 budget allocation. The $250,000 budget allocation came as a result of Councilmember Karl Nurse calling together “white” early childhood education professionals to put together an early childhood education strategy for the mayor to support.
African- American providers, me included, were not invited to the table after repeated requests. The requests were not only requests for Happy Workers’ to be at the table, the requests were made for faith-based early childhood education providers such as Mt. Zion and independent providers such as Kidz World. In spite of the at least three documented requests, African-American early childhood education providers were simply excluded from the planning and discussions regarding their needs.
Maria L. Scruggs, President
St. Petersburg NAACP