Well done!

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor:

The St. Petersburg Branch NAACP’s Freedom Fund 2017 is done! We are thankful that we were blessed with more than 500 guests who came to offer their support.

Our goal of raising money was achieved. Our goal of creating an event in our own backyard was achieved. Our goal of honoring excellence in service within our community was achieved. Our goal of reigniting a discussion about Juneteenth was achieved. Our goal of honoring two of our brightest students Aldric Griffin and Alexis Peterson was achieved. Our goal of bringing our community together under a sea of elegance in our own backyard was achieved. Last but not least, our goal of placing a bright spotlight on many of our homegrown business was achieved.

Ninety-seven percent of the funds spent to host Freedom Fund 2017 were spent with black owned and small businesses within our community.

The St. Petersburg Branch NAACP’s primary objective is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority groups. The primary objective of our 2017 Freedom Fund was to lay the groundwork for establishing a discussion, and ultimate action to ensure economic equity for black and brown- owned businesses within our community.

We accepted the fact that to have any credibility, that effort must begin with us. We entered into this endeavor with an expectation that the businesses we contracted would perform at a standard of excellence. They did it and it came naturally for them because that is simply what they do.

For many of them, this was the largest event they had the opportunity to contract with, and they got that opportunity at home. The NAACP is serious about its goals of ensuring that black and brown-owned businesses have a seat at the table in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, the State of Florida, the United States and ultimately positioning them to compete anywhere in the world if that is what they choose to do.

For too many years, economic development within the black community has been treated like a social service program; someone has always been called in to fix us. That strategy has not led to one sustainable economic plan that changed the course of a targeted group of businesses.

In 2014, I began a campaign for this city and county to recognize the fact that 105 early childhood education centers south of Central Avenue were excellent opportunities to create economic strategies aimed at ensuring those businesses were positioned to provide a quality early childhood education.

Those advocacy efforts were met with adversity and venom. Yet, while on the campaign trail it is very interesting to hear candidate talking points to include “early childhood education.”

Once again I am calling on this city to recognize that if we are ever to be true to creating economic prosperity within the black community, a strategy must exist that support local businesses on multiple levels to address the barriers they face as business owners who happen to be black.

No longer must this community except sub-standard planning efforts that simply generate a lot of movement with little to no results. The NAACP has laid the groundwork to say that until we can rattle off results quantitatively about how we have moved the needle in regards to providing opportunity and access to black and brown- businesses, we are simply wasting time.

This community must join with the NAACP by becoming members to ensure that our collective voices are heard. We must unapologetically reject the notion that one or two people speak on behalf of the black community. We must unapologetically reject the notion that we must settle for what someone gives us.

Lastly, we must unapologetically embrace the notion that opportunity and access is grounded in hard work, excellent customer service and a level of integrity that rejects that we can simply be bought for a few pieces of silver.

Maria L. Scruggs, President, St. Petersburg Branch NAACP

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