Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
May 22, 2023
Over the weekend, when the NAACP issued a travel advisory on Florida that is “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” several Black lawmakers across the state — both Democrats and Republicans — quickly spoke up on Monday.
“In Ron DeSantis’ Florida, Black Americans are absolutely less safe, so it is no wonder that the NAACP has issued this travel advisory, noting the state’s open hostility,” said Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones, of Miami-Dade, in a written statement. “Everyone ought to be able to visit and exist in our state, but that is no longer the case thanks to the attacks against Black and Brown communities from the governor and the Legislature he controls.”
In Jacksonville, Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon told the Phoenix that “Floridians are hurting and as Republicans and DeSantis continually attack our freedoms, more specifically those of the Black Community, it’s imperative we show solidarity as folks protest these policies designed to create more division and suffering for marginalized communities in our state.”
Democratic Rep. Ashley Gantt, also of Miami-Dade, is “thankful” for the advisory, saying that there were many pieces of legislation passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in the recent session “that are detrimental to the Floridians who are included in the advisory.”
“As a Black Floridian, I am dismayed and disheartened by the continued efforts to erase Black history and in essence, erase our existence, including me,” Gantt told the Phoenix on Monday. “We know that the greatness of our country is because we recognize our past, and that includes the heartbreaking, tragic and horrible parts of the past, and that informs the future.”
While Florida Democrats applauded the NAACP’s statement, Florida Republicans blasted it.
“Over the top press advisories like this do nothing to help the Black community,” GOP Pinellas County state House Rep. Berny Jacques told the Phoenix in a text message. “They should be talking about the real achievements being made in Florida – like our historic expansion of school choice and record low unemployment.”
“I don’t even know what the NAACP is talking about,” Southwest Florida Congressman Byron Donalds told Fox News Monday morning. “This is silly and it’s dumb. It’s political, it makes no sense.”
And Donalds, who became only Florida’s third-ever Black Republican to serve in Congress when he was elected in 2020, says the NAACP should be focused on making sure that people actually have opportunities to achieve, where he said Florida stands out.
“We’re doing a significantly better job helping Black Americans succeed and it’s not just about me it’s about all the millions of Black people who are live in our state,” he said. Donalds didn’t provide specifics.
Meanwhile, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler, who is white, noted on Twitter Sunday that the chairman of the NAACP, Leon Russell, lives in Tampa.
“True leadership is being willing to do what you ask others to do…time to step up and MOVE. If you think the state is so bad the @FloridaGOP will help with moving costs,” Ziegler tweeted.
The NAACP travel advisory is the third such advisory to be issued by a civil rights organization monitoring the Florida Legislature’s actions in the past five weeks.
In response to Gov. DeSantis signing a sweeping bill cracking down on illegal immigration in Florida, the League of United Latin American Citizens issued a statement last week warning Latinos in Florida with family members to be cautious if they encounter law enforcement. That’s a reference to a provision in the bill that makes “knowingly and willingly” transport the undocumented into the state a felony offense.
In April, Equality Florida, the state’s biggest LGBTQ+ advocacy group, issued that they called “an unprecedented step of issuing a travel advisory to individuals, families, entrepreneurs, and students warning that Florida “may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence.”
The governor’s office did not respond to the Phoenix’s request for comment on Monday, but a DeSantis spokesperson told ABC News over the weekend that, “We aren’t going to waste our time worrying about political stunts. We will continue doing what is right for Floridians.”
The NAACP issued a travel advisory for Florida on Saturday, saying it came in direct response to DeSantis’ “aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools.” In addition, “Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”
DeSantis announced in January that he was blocking a pilot Advanced Placement course in high school on African American studies, a new class developed by the 100-year-old nonprofit College Board, which led to a nationwide outcry, a march to the state Capitol in February and concerns that the move was diminishing the importance of Black history and Black culture.
And last week the governor signed SB 266, which prohibits public universities in Florida from spending federal or state dollars on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs which have been created to promote multiculturism and address inequities against historically marginalized groups.
In a press release announcing the signing of the bill, the governor’s office labeled such programs as “discriminatory initiatives” that “promote dangerous political and social activism.”
Measures related to the travel advisory include:
Please be advised that Florida public schools will not teach your children accurate African-American history, which includes a history of enslavement, segregation, racial injustice and systemic racism.
Please be advised that the State of Florida does not value diversity, equity, and inclusion in Florida schools, colleges and universities.
Please be advised that the State of Florida does not welcome the contributions of African Americans and people of color.
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