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Juneteenth Tampa Event Highlights Racial Disparities, Including Climate Change Effects

A group gathered at a plot for a future community garden in West Tampa on Saturday to honor Juneteenth with an event dubbed the "Love Feast."

Juneteenth, a day to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, was recognized Saturday as a federal holiday for the first time.

About 50 people got together at a vacant lot on West Beach Street in Tampa to share food, laughs and words about change within the Black community. It took place where the "Tampa Heritage Initiative Community Garden" will soon grow.

The “Love Feast” event was also used as a platform to educate the neighborhood about how climate change disproportionately affects communities of color. It was hosted by two local organizations: Urban Progress Alliance and Tampa Bay Disaster Resiliency Initiative.

Representatives of other groups, including the Sierra Club, were also present.

Reparations

Brenda Allen, president of Urban Progress Alliance, said she's happy for the piece of symbolism the federal government granted when declaring Juneteenth an official holiday.

"However, I don't feel that it actually equalizes the masses of poor Black people. But it is an indication that we've made progress," she said.

There’s still an economic wealth gap, racial disparities, and missing reparations, according to Allen.

“When Black people, enslaved Black people, were given their freedom, they were promised 40 acres and a mule. And that never happened, but the atrocities continued to happen to our ancestors,” she said. “Therefore, there needs to be a compensation for that, and bring about equality to our planet.”

Brenda Allen.jpg
Jessica Meszaros
Brenda Allen is the president of Urban Progress Alliance, an organization which defines itself as bringing "equality and social responsibility to the urban re-development process."

Critical Race Theory

About a week before Juneteenth became federally acknowledged, Florida banned its schools from teaching critical race theory. Supporters of this classroom conversation say it’s a way of understanding how racism has shaped America. But opponents say it’s divisive, pitting people of color against white people.

Andre Hill Jr., with Urban Progress Alliance who’s also behind the West Tampa community garden, said he’s not surprised Florida banned it.

“We've not been able to depend much on the school boards to teach historical, factual information in a context that is digestible, and also as informative as it needs to be,” he said. “It needs to be taught, but we also have to take into account that critical race theory needs to be taught from the community, as well.”

Andre Hill Junior.jpg
Jessica Meszaros
Andre Hill Jr. is with Urban Progress Alliance, and he's behind the "Tampa Heritage Initiative Community Garden."

Climate Change

Hill Jr. co-organized this event to not only celebrate Juneteenth, but also to discuss how communities of color are most affected by climate change.

“Usually when any climate disaster happens, the first thing that is affected is real estate, homeownership, right? And so, what happens is when Black and brown communities are marginalized through any political endeavors, and economic endeavors, resulting in a lack of ownership in the community, a disaster comes through [and] Black and brown peoples get moved around. And it makes it very difficult for them to re-stabilize,” he said.

There are two areas of resolution to this, according to Hill Jr. First is having resiliency organizations available with immediate resources after the disaster. And second is influencing more home ownership in the community.

“Because as long as you do not have a ownership stake in your community, you do not have an economic, nor a political, say in your community, as much as the people who do own real estate,” said Hill Jr.

He also hopes to empower local residents of color with the Tampa Heritage Initiative Community Garden.

“What a community garden like this one is going to do is instill training programs, provide education … so that we can make conscious decisions on how we are affecting our environment down the line,” he said.

Hill Jr. plans to grow produce through conventional gardening and hydroponic systems, and then teach people how to grow in their own backyards.

Blaq Earth

A new organization was also introduced Saturday called Blaq Earth.

Walter L. Smith II, the founder, talked about the ultimate goal of the organization:

"Making sure that we are addressing the issue of environmental justice, and that we are helping to create policy, that is just policy that we can all live with that will create a better quality of life for everybody," he said.

It's currently centered around Hillsborough County, but there are plans to expand.

Walter L Smith II.jpg
Jessica Meszaros
Walter L. Smith II is an environmental and civil engineer, and is with Tampa Bay Disaster Resiliency Initiative.

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