Public scrutiny sparks conversation about racial tensions in Tampa

(Caption: Panelists discuss how racial tensions are rising in Tampa and nationwide.
Pictured (from left to right): William Z. Knowles, Dr. Joan Holmes, Dr. Samuel Wright and Stanley Grey.)

From Creative Loafing 

by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy

July 19, 2015

A panel of experts addressed around 100 members of the Tampa Tiger Bay Club on Friday afternoon to open up a dialogue about understanding and improving racial tensions in Tampa Bay.

The panelists spent much of the time talking about institutional racism’s prevalence in Tampa and sharing personal experiences of stereotyping and discrimination.

“There are a lot of systemic issues going on, from the universities to the government. It’s pervasive in Tampa,” said Dr. Samuel Wright, who, now retired, was associate dean of student relations at University of South Florida. “There is a ceiling of oppression on a number of people around here who have been oppressed in every situation.”

The panelists included Dr. Wright; William Z. Knowles from Derrick Brooks Charities Youth Programs; Dr. Joan Holmes, special assistant to the president for diversity and special programs at Hillsborough Community College; and, Stanley Grey, founder of S. Grey & Associates, a human resources consulting firm committed to educating Tampa’s under-served youth.

“While certainly black people are more affected by racial stereotyping than white people, it’s a problem for all of us in the sense that if you are being wronged and treated improperly, we should all be concerned as a society,” said Chris Ingram, president of Tampa Tiger Bay.

This discussion comes around a time when the City of Tampa has been under scrutiny for how black people are treated within its city limits.

An investigation conducted by the Tampa Bay Times found that Tampa police are disproportionally targeting poor, black residents who ride bicycles. Even though black people make up about a quarter of the city’s population, black cyclists receive 79 percent of the bike tickets that have been issued by Tampa police in the past dozen years.

A recent Harvard study also found that Tampa is one of the nation’s poorest in terms of upward mobility, making it incredibly difficult for poor children to escape poverty and rise to a higher social or economic position. Hillsborough County was ranked 98th out of the nation’s 100 largest counties for upward mobility.

“The kind of problems that we’re facing in the microcosm of Tampa Bay and nationally are falling on local communities with limited resources to start addressing these issues,” said Laila Abdelaziz, legislative and government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “It is really time for systemic policy conversations that address the socioeconomic problems that create injustice in our communities.”


Photos by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy   (Caption: Dr. Samuel Wright emphasized that race
relations is not just an African-American issue; it’s a people issue.)


The panelists offered multiple solutions for improving racial tensions in Tampa. These solutions ranged from investing more in black people by creating strong mentoring programs to implementing Ban the Box, which removes the check box from hiring applications that asks if applicants have a criminal history.

“Give these people the opportunity to take care of themselves and you’ll see some changes,” Dr. Wright said. “When you give people opportunities and jobs, you’ll see a lot of transformations in this community.”

Businesses also have to pay wages that will actually cover the costs of living in Tampa, Stanley Grey said.

Dr. Joan Holmes also emphasized the importance of white advocacy in improving racial tensions in Tampa and nationwide.

“White advocacy is very powerful. It would be so refreshing to hear a white person say, ‘This is not the way our country is.’ But we don’t see enough of that,” Dr. Holmes said.

Race relations are becoming more widely spoken about throughout the nation, as incidents of police brutality increase and acts of racism are committed.

Among the most recent occurrences was when 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners in a Charleston, S.C. church last month. His manifesto sparked heated debates when photographs were disseminated on media of Roof waving a Confederate flag while wearing a jacket with an Apartheid-era South African flag—both symbols of white supremacist ideals.

After the incident, South Carolina officials were scrutinized and pressured to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse.

The flag was finally removed from Capitol grounds last week.

These nationwide events also sparked a heated debate in Tampa due to the Confederate flag that can be seen while driving on the I-75 in Tampa.

“You are sending a message to black people and other people of color that Tampa is racist headquarters where people of color are being oppressed,” Dr. Wright said.

A Confederate flag was removed from the Fred B. Karl County Center on Wednesday.

“We need systemic reform and changes. The community is tired of Band-Aid approaches,” said Joyce Hamilton Henry, director of advocacy at American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “It’s wonderful that we’re meeting to talk about it, but we’re looking for real action. Action means real policy changes and real reform because we’re tired of all talk.”