For those who have enjoyed and benefited from privilege, equality feels like oppression.
By Charles Griggs
“That second man has his own way of looking at things; asks himself which debt must I pay first, the debt to the rich, or the debt to the poor?” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
For months now, make that for years, I have wondering how poor neighborhoods and communities became the vast regions of hopelessness we identify with today. As a product of one of these communities, hopelessness cannot not be standard for those who followed me. Am I some type of human condition anomaly? A freak of nature?
While I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself to be some type of freak because I made it out of my neighborhood, the time has come where I can use my experiences to identify barriers and challenges for those not as fortunate as I.
Most of my childhood was spent growing up in the Durkeeville area of Jacksonville, Florida. I can remember things being different, but consistent with a neighborhood still struggling from the effects of segregation. Our families were parked in a pocket of town that had recently compromised on a deal that promised to provide benefits for all…both Blacks and Whites.
That deal was Consolidation. In 1967, the citizens of Jacksonville voted to go live on an experiment where the goal was to provide a fail-safe for rampant corruption in city and county governments, and increase proficiencies for public service. Now some 50 plus years later, the evidence has proven that the promise of the Consolidated City of Jacksonville has not benefitted those living in the most economically depressed areas of the Urban Core.
Arguably, none of the things consolidation promised have occurred for the better in Jacksonville’s Urban Core. In fact, while the City continues to invest in economic growth in other areas of town, things in the Urban Core have gotten decidedly worse.
According to the U.S. Census in 1960 African Americans (Negros) made up 41 percent of the population of the City of Jacksonville, and 23 percent of Duval County. With Consolidation, the total population of African Americans dropped to 22 percent in 1970. The outcome of this numbers game was less representation in elected government and a smaller voice for accountability around promises made through Consolidation.
In 2015 UF Health and partners produced a Community Health Needs Assessment in the hope to call attention to glaring disparities festering in Jacksonville. The report, “Identifies community health needs and to inform development of an implementation strategy to address identified significant needs.” Many data points stick out relevant to the neglect of Consolidation, however those who have had a front row seat of the systematic deterioration of Jacksonville’s Urban Core can point a finger directly at policies and practices emerging from that era.
The report states, “Many health needs are associated with poverty. In 2013, 16.6 percent of Duval County residents lived in poverty –a rate above Florida and national averages. Health Zone 1 is comprised of six ZIP codes in/around downtown Jacksonville. According to the U.S. Census: 107,897 people lived in Health Zone 1 in 2013 (about 12 percent of Duval County’s total population). About 34 percent of these persons were in poverty. Health Zone 1 thus is home to 12 percent of the county’s total population and to 25 percent of county residents living in poverty.”
The long term by-product of all of this is a community with higher unemployment rates, higher crime rates poorer health outcomes and an undesirable infrastructure to feed economic development and growth.
Communities survive and grow based on their priorities. Over the past 50 years it is clear that Jacksonville has not made it a priority to address issues responsible for literally sucking the life out of one specific area of town.
I love Jacksonville. It is my home and my experiences here are responsible for my matriculation as a man. However, Jacksonville is also currently a city with no identity, searching to become something other communities envy without atoning for its role in systematic inequalities. Many have benefitted financially from the failures of the Urban Core. It is time for leaders and stakeholders to set priorities for undoing the negative effects of Consolidation.
Jacksonville has proven to be good at designing and building things a new. It’s time to provide that same energy to turning around the lives of the least of us.
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