As a member of the “younger” generation, I was born and raised in St. Petersburg to take pride in my community, respect my elders and unapologetically take part in what I feel is right rather than what’s wrong, especially when I know the difference.
There is something about south St. Petersburg that’s golden but slowly fading away. It’s a place where you acknowledge strangers in passing with, “Hey, how you doing?” actually waiting for a reply or greeting those you meet with subtle head nods and smiles. It’s a place where our seafood and beaches are just a couple of our hidden treasures.
There have been many opinions and much input on the state of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum so if you don’t mind, and even if you do, I’d like to give mine.
The building itself has always been a place of unification and gathering for black Americans in St. Petersburg for many years. In fact, some of my best family reunions were held there and as I write this, I reflect on being around my great grandparents, elders and a host of cousins and other relatives who also lived in Jordan Park. It was filled with so much love. Therefore, I can only imagine what it means to other community members.
I was ecstatic to find that this community staple was being turned into an African-American museum and would be named after Dr. Carter G. Woodson, also known as the “father of black history.” I believed that this was long overdue because as much as I love this city, our city, an ongoing account and history, black history of St. Petersburg and ourselves is lost with each passing day.
In fact, I can remember when Tropicana Field was known as the “the dome” but was too young to understand the effects of gentrification and how this project pushed many of us out of our homes and neighborhoods. Today, I look at it as an important part of history and an insight to our struggle and how we are still fighting to overcome many of these battles.
In the past few weeks a couple of articles have been written expressing that community members are vilifying Pinellas County Housing Authority board members and also seeking a call to action from Mayor Rick Kriseman. As a “Burg” native, quiet observer, truth seeker and future revolutionary, I’d have to disagree. In fact, I commend all of the protesters and activists for standing up for what they believe in and speaking their truths boldly and unapologetically.
As far as Mayor Kriseman is concerned, I feel that he’s doing a good job in spite of recent scrutiny. If appointed officials aren’t representing and working with the community to the best of their abilities, why re-appoint them? Why send a message stating that their actions are acceptable? Although, Kriseman has been elected to serve the beautiful city of St. Petersburg, these are our neighborhoods, our communities and our responsibility. We will never agree completely with any politician, however, he’s listening and attempting to work with the people. In retrospect, the building itself has been there far before Mayor Kriseman and community members will still be there far after his term.
How dare we shame anyone for voicing their opinions, standing up for what they believe in and exercising their rights as Americans. It’s time we stop sugarcoating things and start calling them out for what and who they are and how we see them. Is it all right for us to protest police brutality against our own but remain passive and silent against leaders in our own communities who may not be serving in our best interest and exploiting the black community? I could be wrong but I was taught that board members (of nearly any organization) were charged with the task of serving its people and taking sincere and general interest in community concerns.
For instance, I know one of the Pinellas County Housing Authority board members quite well and can tell you first hand, judging “…by the content of their character” and personal experience that this particular member has no sincere and genuine interest and concern for the black community and has proven to be only out “for self.” I believe members of the general public have begun to see that too. We have people making decisions and deciding the fate of communities not just in St. Petersburg but also around the nation who can’t even relate to the people in which they are supposed to serve. We are growing more and more into a community that only respects titles, status and social standing. I have very little of any of those – only the hope that we can see what this attitude is doing to us as a people and as a community.
We have been passive for way too long and its time that we as a community hold politicians, leaders and authority figures accountable for their actions (or non-action). Although I can only speak for myself, it seems as is if board members have done very little to work with the residents to keep the building in the community and make an attempt to come up with favorable solutions.
Can members of the board honestly say that they’ve considered and exhausted all possibilities before deciding to sale? Have they whole-heartedly worked with the community in an effort to save the south St. Pete gem? Too quickly and too easily did they put a price tag on the priceless.
Museums across the country are fighting to thrive, but it seems to matter very little to the Board just how much this space means and has meant to generations of African Americans in south St. Petersburg. What attempts have they made in figuring out how the space can be effective and beneficial to the community in other ways? It’s clear that this decision wasn’t made in the interest of the public and community members but made simply because Board Members had the power to do so.
As we go further into the month, let us remember that black history reaches far beyond February but 365 days a year. With that being said, I leave you with this:
“The country is in deep trouble. We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.” – Dr. Cornel West