ST. PETERSBURG –More than 350 people packed into a pitched tent in front of the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum awaiting to hear the Kriseman administration plans for south St. Petersburg.
The first of its kind, the administration decided to give a progress report on the city’s efforts while residents dined on a free catered meal.
Kriseman announced that his administration will find $1 million in the city’s budget to invest in young black males.
“So many of our issues in south St. Petersburg are tied to generational poverty—a deficit of the resources required to pursue the self-actualization that is implied in our vision of a city of opportunity,” said Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, who came up with the idea of a city dinner.
Tomalin stated that the city needs to be more focused on insuring residents are ready to optimize these opportunities when they occur. The city has created higher wage jobs since her time in office, but she asked what good are these jobs if residents do not meet the qualifications to get or hold them?
“We have work to do,” said Tomalin.
The responsibility of finding $1 million in the city’s budget to improve south St. Petersburg has been delegated to city leaders, and Kriseman is sure that Tomalin and City Administrator Gary Cornwell will make it happen.
“Nowhere in St. Petersburg is more attention needed,” Kriseman said. “Where there is disproportionate need, we must invest disproportionately in order to move ahead equitably.”
Decades of disenfranchisement south of Central Avenue means that there is more need, and Kriseman feels that they are answering that need with more focused resources, such as the Southside Community Redevelopment Area, wraparound service partnerships with the 20/20 Plan, the Pinellas County Urban League, the Pinellas Opportunity Council and the opening of the Pinellas Ex-Offender Reentry Collation.
“We are working to change the story in a way that will never be undone,” said Kriseman.
There have been seven lives lost to gun violence since Nov. 10, all of them young black boys and men.
“What you should know is that this is the issue that I care most about. Not the Pier or a baseball team. I care about people’s lives,” he said to a round of applause.
“The shootings that shake our community the most ring out from a weapon much more menacing than any gun,” Kriseman said adding that he believes if the city deals with disenfranchisement and despair that the shootings and robberies will diminish.
With the million-dollar investment, a taskforce will be assembled to chart a course towards solutions that will make a difference for the community’s youths. Community members will also be a part of that group.
Kriseman shared in an exclusive interview with The Weekly Challenger his 2016 plans for St. Petersburg, and expressed that closing the achievement gap between black and white students is high priority.
Although the city is limited to what it can do, he believes that the city government should not only have a partnership with the Pinellas County School Board, but also with the community.
With the hiring of Leah McRae, the director of education, her position is to be a liaison between the school system, the city and community. Kriseman also meets regularly with the superintendent for school improvement discussions.
A school plan currently in the works for high school students is the service learning plan, which partners local high school students with colleges such as Eckerd, St. Pete College and the University of South Florida-St. Pete.
“We are doing anti-bullying programs because we know that if the classroom environment isn’t safe, it’s very difficult for teachers to teach and more importantly, it’s difficult for students to feel safe and learn,” he said.
“If we don’t have kids who have hope, we’re going to lose them to crime,” Kriseman said.
He went on to say that that without educated children, recruiting businesses to the community will be difficult because companies will look for an educated workforce. On that same note, businesses will bypass the area if the schools are substandard. No one will relocate to area where the schools are failing.
Kriseman is also turning his attention to the Skyway Marina District in 2016. He said the city is currently in discussions with potential companies, and encourages businesses to explore options for opportunity in the area, which is located at the southernmost point of 34th Street South.
He believes that this district has more potential for growth than downtown. It is a prime area for restaurants and business and once one plants its roots there, which Kriseman hopes is this year, it will pave the way for more.