Progress made, but much work remains on racial equity efforts in Gainesville

·3 min read
Kenneth Nunn unveils a historical marker outside of the Alachua County Administrative Building in Gainesville. The marker acknowledged the lynchings that took place in the city during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era. Nunn's wife, Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, who died last year, contributed to the research that led to the marker.
Kenneth Nunn unveils a historical marker outside of the Alachua County Administrative Building in Gainesville. The marker acknowledged the lynchings that took place in the city during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow Era. Nunn's wife, Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, who died last year, contributed to the research that led to the marker.

Gainesville has taken steps to honor residents who broke racial barriers and fought for racial equity and justice in the past, but has fallen short in ending the inequity and injustice that continue today.

This month, the Alachua County Criminal Justice Center was renamed in honor of the late Judge Stephan P. Mickle and he was posthumously inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida's Hall of Fame. These are fitting tributes to Mickle, the first Black person to hold several judicial positions in the area as well as the first Black student to earn an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida.

The Alachua County Criminal Justice Center was renamed in honor of the late Judge Stephan P. Mickle.
The Alachua County Criminal Justice Center was renamed in honor of the late Judge Stephan P. Mickle.

The removal of a Confederate statue from the Alachua County Administration Building grounds in 2017 opened the way for site to be used to educate residents about the ugly history of racism and racial violence in the area. A historical marker remembering lynching victims in Gainesville was unveiled last year at the site and a new statue there will honor UF senior lecturer Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, who died last year after a career spent making people better aware of that history.

But other efforts along these lines have stalled, such as UF’s review of historic building names that was among racial justice goals announced in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s murder in 2020. UF President Kent Fuchs needs to make further progress on these goals, including better recruiting and retaining Black students, before he steps down from the position by early next year.

UF has experienced undue political pressure in making such decisions as barring professors from testifying against state laws, including measures meant to make it harder for Black voters to cast ballots. The university must show it remains committed to racial reconciliation, especially as Gov. Ron DeSantis works to block the teaching of our nation’s racial history in schools.

Alachua County Public Schools need to make greater progress on closing a longstanding racial gap in student test scores. Officials need to make sure that a drop in graduation rates, including for Black students, for the 2020-2021 school year was related to COVID and not the long-term reversal of previous gains.

A redrawing of school zones planned this year for Idylwild and Metcalfe elementaries must lead to a district-wide rezoning that addresses overcrowding and racial inequity. The district should do more to attract top teachers to schools where students are struggling, including providing them financial incentives.

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Other local intuitions also have work to do when it comes to racial equity. The city of Gainesville faced several high-profile resignations over the past year including Equity and Inclusion Director Teneeshia Marshall, who cited disrespectful treatment and interference with her job.

The city has woven equity into the development of its Comprehensive Plan and other efforts, but has done poorly in including residents in development decisions affecting historically Black neighborhoods. With changes looming that are intended to improve the availability of affordable housing and spread multi-family housing more equitably throughout Gainesville, commissioners need to do better.

These are just a few examples of the work that has to be done locally to advance racial equity and justice in our community. As our country marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day this Monday, Gainesville residents should celebrate the progress made but also recognize all the work that remains to be done.

— The Gainesville Sun Editorial Board

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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Editorial: Much work remains on racial equity efforts in Gainesville