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The South Florida Roundup

'A Movement, Not A Moment': Racial And Social Justice Reform Efforts In The Year Since George Floyd's Death

Al Diaz
The Miami Herald

It has been nearly one year since thousands of South Floridians took to the streets to rally against systemic racism and demand social justice reforms.

The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked a movement that included protests against excessive use of force by police, but it was much larger —encompassing racial and socioeconomic inequalities.

It has been called a reckoning.

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Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts were launched. Mission and vision statements were revamped. Advisory boards and task forces were created.

Leaders who are part of local government efforts to address social injustices joined the program to discuss the status of their initiatives.

Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness sponsored an ordinance to create the county’s Racial Equity Task Force. The ordinance was approved in December 2020.

“We are making some progress. It is slow. Unfortunately, government doesn't move as fast as we'd like it to, but there are processes that you have to go through in order to get there,” Holness said. “But this is very serious work.”

Broward’s task force will be made up of 37 members from private companies, nonprofits, and other local government branches.

Commissioner Holness said he hopes to have task force members confirmed and begin meeting by the end of the summer.

Patrick Franklin is a co-chair on the City of West Palm Beach’s Task Force for Racial and Ethnic Equality. It was created by the city’s mayor, Keith James.

Franklin said the task force has been meeting regularly to work on a list of short and long term recommendations to present to the mayor.

“The June 12 summit is going to really affirm the points that we've been working on over the last six to eight months,” Franklin said. “But right now, we don't have really concrete points but they’re in the works and we want to solidify that this summer.”

In Miami-Dade County, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava created the Office of Equity and Inclusion in February.

Rahel Weldeyesus is the senior advisor for Innovation and performance for the county and she oversees the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Community Engagement.

Weldeyesus said the county is beginning its push for community equity by first taking a critical look at how the county government is operating.

“A key component of this work is really looking at equity holistically — what are we doing in county government? Are we setting the example? We can't ask our community just to do something that we ourselves are not doing,” Weldeyesus said. “So what are we doing internally and how do we convene those who are active in this space to really come up with a comprehensive equity plan?”

The Role Of Academia In Pursuing Racial And Social Justice Reform

Last year following the death of George Floyd, many higher education institutions took an inward look to evaluate how they might be operating in a way that did not support racial and social justice reform.

Florida International University’s president, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, created the Equity Action Initiative to help opportunities for improvement. The university also appointed its first ever Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, El pagnier Hudson.

“We determined that we would be intentional about identifying those things that would allow us to make sure that our students were successful, that our faculty and staff were working in an environment of belonging,” Hudson said. “So we really took time to listen, to do the research, to analyze our own demographics, to see where we might have had areas of underrepresentation and outlined places where we could do better.”

Landon Coles is the University of Miami’s Student Government Association president. He said the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd mobilized students on campus to seek racial and social reform.

“The question began to be asked about how it is that we can better our own university community to support all students? And so that came to the nature of a 15-point racial justice plan for which I was the coauthor, as well as crafting a name change committee letter for which we asked the institution to genuinely analyze the names on every structure at the university and ask ‘how it is that we can best be in the business of proactively supporting every student that walks the campus?”

The student initiatives led to UM announcing it will remove the name of George Merrick from a parking structure on campus. Students and alumni raised concerns that the university and Coral Gables founder engaged in racist behavior.

“I was very satisfied with that effort,” Coles said. “But I think, again, it's just a first step that we have to continue to be proactive to stay ahead of the curve.”

Continuing Efforts To Achieve Social Reform

The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police was the catalyst that mobilized people across the world to rally against systemic racism.

In South Florida, people of different races, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds marched in the streets and spoke out against social injustice and pushed for reform.

Community organizers launched grassroots efforts to keep the conversation going through community forums, social media groups and rallies. What is the state of those efforts nearly one year after they pushed for racial and social justice reform?

Ariel Lett is a Miami-based civil rights attorney.

“There's been a lot of progress, we do now have a police oversight panel from the community,” Lett said. “Also, we've had quite a lot of community support and myself have had a lot of people approach me and talk with me, both white and black and everything in between asking what they can do to help. That wasn't done before last year's movement. And so we just have to make sure that we're continuing to make it a movement and not a moment.”

Natalie Robinson Bruner is YWCA South Florida’s division director of racial and gender equity advancement.

“I think [the last year] has been an awakening for those who have been sort of sitting on the fence to really take the time to step up and learn about what's been happening,” Robinson Bruner said. “We saw a great push with our 21-day challenge where individuals just took the time to sit and learn about the different aspects when it comes to systemic racism in an effort to push them from education into action. And so I think it's been a turn in sort of helping people that have been on the fence to actually become allies.”

Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.