BY CHARLES W. CHERRY II
DAYTONA TIMES PUBLISHER
Forward ever, backward never. – Kwame Nkrumah, the founder of modern Ghana, West Africa
Your humble writer has spent weeks advocating for passage of the half-cent sales tax that I believe is critically important to the city’s future.
I stepped into the so-called “lions’ dens” of local radio talk shows and online to make the case that it is time to fix infrastructure in Volusia County’s Black communities that have been ignored and neglected for more than a century. I’ve pointed out the disproportionate pain Black Daytonans and Volusians continue to suffer as a consequence of inconvenient local historical facts.
And what’s been the response from some (but not all) of our mostly beachside fellow citizens?
I’ve been accused of playing the “race card,” making it a “Black or White issue” when one doesn’t exist.
I’ve been accused of being a “carpetbagger’’ who doesn’t even live or vote in Daytona. (I live and vote here.) I’ve been called “a race-baiter” and other names, then banned from a local Facebook group whose purported goal is to openly discuss issues affecting our county.
(Free speech and independent thinking must be more dangerous in Volusia County than I thought. It must be terrible to be so mentally and emotionally fragile.)
There are historical reasons that we find ourselves where we are in 2019, some facts that many of our beachside friends (and some enemies) are unable or unwilling to recognize and accept:
•Northern transplants must understand that Daytona is a Southern town with a Southern history that affects them, whether they like it or not. Florida was just as racist as Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and other notorious Southern states. Racial segregation was REAL in the lives of any Black person 60 years old or older in Volusia County. Don’t let Florida’s sunshine, “The World’s Most Famous Beach,” and the occasional orange blossom fragrance fool you.
Just one example. To our beachside friends, ask your neighbors about how and why the Volusia County School Board fought school desegregation for almost a decade before putting the burden of school “equality’’ on the backs of Black families here by splitting communities between Mainland and Seabreeze High Schools after shutting down Campbell High.
That’s just one way that previous elected officials made decisions decades ago that affect our lives today. There are too many other historical decisions to count, so I’ll only list a few.
Blacks all over the South were forced to live only in flood-prone, undesirable areas. Example: Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune built Bethune-Cookman College (now University) 115 years ago on Daytona Beach’s former city dump. (The university now injects $251 million yearly in economic impact to Daytona Beach, as our Florida Courier revealed in a front-page story last month.) Most Black communities have existed on such low-lying property (including swamps and wetlands) for 120 years or more, again as a consequence of locally restrictive laws, ordinances and practices.
• Black property owners in the South paid ad valorem property taxes for DECADES. Their tax money went to build and maintain infrastructure everywhere but in Black neighborhoods. Black people, for well-known reasons, couldn’t vote for politicians who could represent their interests on city commissions, school boards, or county councils. They had NO SAY in local government that impacted their daily lives. This happened under Democrat, Dixiecrat, Republican, White Citizens Council, and non-partisan-controlled local governments in both Volusia County and Daytona Beach and all over the South for some 150 years.
It was when the first generation of Black politicians were elected locally 25 years ago (after Black citizens had to sue in federal court to get single-member districts that allowed ‘zoned’ rather than citywide voting) that things began to change in Black Daytona.
• Folks in Daytona Beach’s public housing and the surrounding mostly Black neighborhood still occasionally get flooded out during a hard rain because they are located in low-lying areas. They damn near drown New Orleans-style during a tropical storm. It used to be worse, until Mayor Yvonne Scarlett-Golden and an activist city commission (Charles Cherry, Sr., Dwayne Taylor, occasionally Gwen AzamaEdwards or another vote) made changes.
Ironically Jim Chisholm, a man many of our beachside citizens hate so much, was the city manager when Daytona’s majority-black commission began long-delayed infrastructure projects. The same commission competently handled Black College Reunion (without shutting down Black peoples’ access to the beach as was previously done); did business with local Black-owned businesses; and hired Blacks in high-ranking positions, including city clerk, fire chief, chief financial officer, Leisure Services head, Community Development head, and Economic Development head.
But the anti-flooding project wasn’t finished due to Cherry’s and ScarlettGolden’s untimely deaths, lack of subsequent mayoral leadership, AND lack of funding.
(Incidentally, current Mayor Derrick Henry has been missing in action regarding the half-cent sales tax. Have you seen him on TV, heard him on the radio, or read any guest commentaries in local newspapers educating Daytonans as to why this proposal is so important? Seems that Mayor Henry’s greatest claim to fame is being mayor while the city issued for racial discrimination by the son of Daytona Beach’s first Black city commissioner. But I digress…)
Many of our brothers and sisters on the beachside continue to ask where have the millions of dollars in property taxes gone over many years, since it didn’t go to fixing infrastructure.
I can’t tell them where that money went. But I CAN tell them where it DIDN’T go – into infrastructure in Black communities in Daytona Beach and all over Volusia County who paid their fair share of taxes, but had NO SAY in how it was spent.
• This half-cent plan ain’t perfect. Developer impact fees should increase. The Volusia County Council must do a much better job of managing growth and protecting our local environment. The mail-in ballot scheme ain’t something I would have done.
But some folks won’t pay two cents more for their Wendy’s “Four for Four” meal, or three cents more for their Chipotle chicken bowl, to prevent flooding in low-lying areas. They won’t agree to a small tax increase even as they review a long list of sidewalk and road projects they can see for themselves. They won’t pay a little more even with a layer of state and local ordinances, and an oversight committee, all of which could be used to get standing in court for citizens to sue cities that don’t perform. That’s downright nuts.
• I’ve urged our beachside neighbors to QUIT WHINING about not trusting the government and the politicians THEY elected. If there’s anyone that shouldn’t trust local government, it’s Black folks. At local, state and federal levels, we’ve ALWAYS had to throw America’s “freedom, justice and equality” in the country’s face and force America to realize and deal with its own hypocrisy.
We don’t whine about it. We sue, we march, we boycott, we protest, we vote, we use the Second Amendment to defend ourselves when necessary, even when financial, criminal justice, health care, political and legal systems are blatantly stacked against us.
The fact that we still run for office, vote in numbers, or still care about politics (given literally centuries of disappointment) is actually pretty wondrous. Yet we “keep hope alive,” with many of us trying to trust the government but verify its performance.
Yet our beachside neighbors complain when most of them vote 100 percent Democrat or 100 percent Republican for their own incompetent, corruptible tribe member just because he/she is “one of ours.” Damn the party affiliation. Vote for people who can get the job done.
• I say vote YES. Why? Because we can’t wait another mango season, hurricane season, or election season to fix what’s been broken all over Daytona and Volusia County for more than a century. And do the opponents of the sales tax increase have a better solution to fix that problem NOW? Hell no, they don’t.
It’s time for Daytona and Daytona BEACH (yes, there’s a difference) to move forward together into a brighter future for us all. This half-cent tax can help us to do just that.