‘I never thought I’d be vice president of my neighborhood association; I never dreamed of it, I never even thought about it. I didn’t even know we had a neighborhood association,’ said Jabaar Edmond.
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Native son Jabaar Edmond comes from the neighborhoods he now works to uplift and create opportunities within. He is acutely aware of the pitfalls surrounding communities where systemic racism, hopelessness, and negative mindsets can create a devouring hole.
His activism takes a variety of forms, including being one of the entrepreneurs who formed Urban Collective to take on reshaping 22 South Food Hall last year. He is also a filmmaker, using his insight in the case of the film Art In The City, which he co-wrote and directed with his DreamMakerz Productions partner Cranstan Cumberbatch. The film brings attention to the plight of homeless war veterans and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Art In The City has been embraced by veteran communities all over America and is being used to bring awareness to their plight,” noted artist and filmmaker Debbie Yati Garrett.
Working alongside Edmond over the years, Garrett added that in his constant willingness to support other artists and filmmakers, Edmond has been a vital asset to the growth of arts and filmmaking in St. Pete.
That includes being an advocate and creative force. Edmond, along with Cumberbatch, Garrett, and others, has been the force behind numerous arts initiatives, including the Sunshine City Film Festival and the Tampa Bay Black Arts Film Festival. In continuing to write and direct films, such as the upcoming AX2 Quarantine premiering this Thursday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. at the AMC Sundial, Edmond is also giving a bevy of young, old, and in-between film enthusiasts opportunities to act, promote their music, make vital connections, and add to their own film experiences — and resumes.
Edmond has also been integral to the fight to bring St. Pete affordable housing. He also helped put together the historic structural racism study commissioned by the City of St. Petersburg and conducted by the University of South Florida last year.
As vice president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association and Community Development and Training, Inc (CDAT), Edmond has brought his knowledge, experience, and drive to youth and adults in the community. Working alongside community advocate and leader Brother John Muhammad, Edmond has touched the community through initiatives, including revisualizing south St. Pete through the New I.M.A.G.E Project and the Tampa Bay Breakfast Club online and radio format program.
Edmond shared the importance of projects like the CDAT’s Opportunity Task Force, which links community members with initiatives that allow them to connect with, serve and positively impact the community.
“I grew up in a church; I think one of the key issues — and they always say this — but it’s difficult in practice is, ‘Meet people where they are.’ But that’s often easier said than done.”
Edmond elaborated that while many people claim to meet the community’s needs by directly engaging with those in need, in fact, few people want to go deep into the neighborhoods where the need is greatest.
CDAT has a track record of bringing direct services, activities, and information into these areas through the Opportunity Task Force, which, explained Edmond, “brings opportunities to your door.”
He noted that when he first got “the call” to document the work of the Stop the Violence initiative in 2012, he was given the opportunity to serve, and he responded. But, he acknowledged, sometimes those who don’t fit the traditional image of servant-leader are overlooked by more-established and or accepted gatekeepers and power-wielders.
“People get the cold shoulder, people ostracize people, people get looked at funny or talked about, so everyone isn’t necessarily allowed to serve. And how we can fix that is by giving people opportunity. You don’t know where opportunities will lead people.”
Edmond added that providing opportunities to engage with the community one lives within is sometimes the difference between a life of productivity versus a life of wrong turns.
“That’s really what made us come up with the Opportunity Task Force. Because when you live in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, you take the opportunities that are outside your front door — this is what humans do,” he noted, stressing this is true of everyone, not just those in underprivileged areas.
However, in underresourced neighborhoods, youth and adults often have limited opportunities, and the options for engagement that confront them at their “front door” may also be negative.
He pointed to differences in the course of teen’s life when their out-of-school-time options are going to a beach or access to positive extracurricular opportunities versus choices for youth in underresourced neighborhoods, where fun and exciting activities might mean going for a joy ride in a stolen car or breaking into an empty home.
“I think one of the things we have to do is be intentional about putting more opportunities into less fortunate people’s sight. Because often, they will pick the better opportunity if it was there,” Edmond recommended.
This might result in more kids choosing positive options rather than a negative or possibly criminal choice that lands them with a juvenile charge and on the pipeline into the prison system.
He points to himself and how opportunities helped him change the course of his own life, putting him on the road to community engagement, activism, and leadership. “I never thought I’d be vice president of my neighborhood association; I never dreamed of it, I never even thought about it. I didn’t even know we had a neighborhood association,” he asserted.
“It shows you when you have the opportunity, people will choose to do better, and it will take the best opportunity in front of them.”