Gentrification and Black Orlando
In 2004 when I moved to Orlando from the frigid cold of the Midwest I expected to find a warm and gentile political culture that jived with the great weather of Central Florida. Instead, I found a cold hearted political climate that viewed the predominantly Black districts of Parramore and Pine Hills as the city’s virus, populated by obsolete underclass African-Americans, that do not fit into the mold of the larger predominantly upscale White Orlando.
As a newcomer I asked a basic question, “Why is Parramore and Pine Hills so radically different from neighborhoods such as Thornton Park? Searching for answers I sought out the current commissioner of the Parramore district, Daisy Lynum. Sadly, after several broken appointments by the commissioner I gave up and sought out Mayor Buddy Dyer. To the credit of Mr. Dyer he immediately met with me and I believe answered my questions as fairly and honestly as possible. He said that the district is controlled by slum lords who have hired “enforcers” to frighten the community into submission. Thus, his hands are tied since the majority of the residents are not home owners. Now, coming from Illinois and a one-time associate of former Illinois governor, George Ryan and Senator Peter Fitzgerald, I did not understand the passivity of the mayor in not using a tough stand against these adversaries in the community. Thus, not really understanding the political climate of Orlando, I accepted Mayor Dyer’s conclusions.
In later years, after developing friends and associates in the districts I began to get a different view from the residents, laborers, business owners and the homeless in the community. For example, on Church Street that once held some of the oldest Black businesses in Orlando, entrepreneurs said that the city historically has done very little to support the Black economic growth of the community. In 2005 they were complaining and fearful that the city would use its political power to close them down. They were right. Just a matter of a few years’ earlier small Black businesses lined both sides of Church Street. The area housed a business community that was on the crux of expansion and growth. But by 2010 much of ideals of Black prosperity and city support eroded. For example, the famed Johnson’s Diner, an African-American institution, closed its doors after decades of operation – an African-American eatery that was known throughout Black America.
But, the city argued they had a plan to restore prosperity and community service. Under a scheme called “Pathways for Parramore” Mayor Dyer and Commissioner Daisy Lynum called for a revitalization of Parramore that promised new and affordable housing, public safety, business development, secondary education and a better quality of life. Well, after several years of these valiant promises 83% of the district’s children live in poverty, 42% of its residents do not have a high school diploma, unemployment is over 26%, the average yearly earnings of residents is less than $14,000 a year, 70% of the city’s homeless live in the district, the arrest of youngsters for petty crimes are the highest in the city, Black business growth has stopped and still there is not a full service grocery store such as a Winn Dixie or Save and Shop in the district. The point is, since the initiative for “Pathways for Parramore,” things have gotten worse. But still the city argued that positive and sustainable growth was taking place in Black Orlando. I asked again, ‘What in God’s name are they talking about?’
Well the answer comes yearly in the month of November. College football fans live for two dates; the first day of the season and the date they play their rival. In that month we have the University of Southern California v. University of California at Los Angeles, Alabama v. Auburn, and The Ohio State University v. Michigan; but in Black Orlando, it is Bethune-Cookman University versus the hated Florida A&M University Rattlers. Of course, as a graduate of BCU, I root for the Wildcats; but the issue is greater than a football game — it’s about the city’s blatant misreading of the facts and downright misleading of the Black community.
Every year Mr. Dyer and Ms. Lynum gloat about economic growth the game brings to the city. They brag about the employment of Blacks during that time. Well, let the truth be told. First, the question should be asked, “What percentage of the tourists football dollars are spent in Black Orlando? The answer is very little. Let’s take lodging. The majority of fans stay in the tourist districts, primarily in the International Drive area. Thus, that is where they spend their money – on entertainment, food, gifts and even gas. Well, Dr. White — what about the employment opportunities and vendors, you might ask? The actual facts are that the majority of the vendors do not come from Orlando. For instance, last year most came from cities such as Miami, Atlanta and New York. The only so-called real jobs that the locals had were the parking of cars for the game. And even that is suspect since the majority of the car lots are owned by the city and white business owners.
Now, my eyes are opened to the truth. However, I would get a real education when I visited the homes of many of our fellow citizens while running for public office. Sadly, I can say the shanties of Spanish Town, Jamaica, the ghettos of Port-au-Prince, Haiti and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have nothing on the rat infested slum dwellings of Orlando that are within a stone’s throw of City Hall. However, the city’s plan is not Black urban development, but rather Black urban removal, better known as gentrification. Watch for the next essay, “Part III: The Master Plan–Gentrification.”
Dr. Vibert White
The Truth Teller
Dr. White’s Commentary can be heard on Spreaker.Com Radio.