As a sixth-generation Floridian and the son of an educator, I had a childhood steeped in the history of Florida’s education system. My mother taught me that Florida’s interaction with the minority community was both laudable and lamentable. Our state’s actions resulted in opportunity for some, but significant roadblocks for others.
Central to that narrative were such indomitable people as Marjory Stoneman Douglas, prolific writer and Everglades advocate; Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and civil rights leader; and George W. Jenkins, Jr., founder of Publix Super Markets. My mother never permitted me to wallow in excuses — but neither did she minimize inequities. She simply emphasized that the path to prosperity is paved by education, and that the state can help clear that path or make it harder.
Florida’s history of educational inequality always intrigued me since my parents didn’t have the option of attending integrated high schools. As time progressed, visionary community and political leaders stepped forward to correct this deficit. Govs. LeRoy Collins, Reubin Askew, Bob Graham and Jeb Bush all took important steps to correct segregation and the educational inequalities that promoted low expectations for selected children.
I commend Gov. Rick Scott for continuing that legacy this legislative session. As part of the state’s budget, Scott recently approved $619,000 to fund a mentoring and training program called the Situational Environmental Circumstances (SEC) for at-risk males in elementary schools. The program will target selected counties with the goal of increasing the academic achievement of these students.
The University of Florida, and its College of Education, will oversee this initiative in collaboration with Edward Waters College (Duval County), Bethune-Cookman University (Volusia County), Florida A & M University (Leon County) and Florida Memorial University (Miami-Dade County).
In approving this program, Gov. Scott’s conservative approach to addressing minority concerns is notable. It shows a keen understanding of what minority communities need and want most: the same opportunities and expectations for their children as others.
This effort seeks to address the history of educational inequality that I grew up hearing about — and unfortunately still see. It is historic and offers new hope.
As someone whose parents were not afforded access to similar educational programs when our state was drastically different, I know this project would make them proud by improving life choices and chances of success for all Floridians.
Jamal A. Sowell, special assistant to the president, University of Florida, Gainesville