Manatee NAACP Holds Emergency Meeting for Bradenton’s Minority Community

On Thursday, the Manatee County NAACP held an emergency meeting for Bradenton’s minority community at St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Bradenton. The meeting was in response to county officials meeting with the Florida Department of Transportation on their Desoto Bridge Flyover Proposal  , as reported in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Wednesday. Bradenton residents also reacted to the controversial unarmed shooting death of Bradenton resident Corey Mobley by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office, as reported in the Bradenton Herald on Jan. 24.

Rodney K. Jones, 51, a born and raised Bradenton local and the President of the Manatee County NAACP who organized the event, hopes that the general call for all Manatee County residents to meet on Thursday broadened the awareness of the minority community’s plight.

“It was a really eclectic group, and the only thing we really wanted to do was expose our condition, because many people don’t know,” Jones said on Friday. “If you’re not directly impacted or it doesn’t impact your family or your neighborhood, a lot of times you’re not conscious of the bigger picture of the community that endures a much different condition,” Jones added.

The FDOT proposal is to build a “flyover” elevated throughway on RT.41-301 in Bradenton to alleviate traffic congestion and increase mobility, which has been a top priority to the city according to the Central Manatee Network Alternative Analysis. Jones along with local community and activist leaders from Answer Suncoast and Black Lives Matter Manasota argue that the current FDOT plans violate their own civil rights program and are in line with a pattern of non-responsiveness to minority community concerns. In response to their claims in a Jan.30 Bradenton Herald article, FDOT District One Growth Management Coordinator Lawrence Massey was quoted stating that FDOT had conducted several official meetings in Bradenton and Palmetto, outreaching to minority communities affected by project with significant turnout.

Jones contends that these FDOT meetings were out of reach for Bradenton’s minority community as part of a historical effort to disenfranchise the community.

“They held all of the public workshops outside the community,” Jones said. “If you were elderly or had to walk, you wouldn’t make it.”

Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells was also in attendance on Thursday, as community activists addressed their concerns to him directly. Natasha Clemons, 46, of Bradenton, gave an emotional plea to the Sheriff as a first-cousin of Corey Mobley and a mother of Randall Mitchell, a 23-year-old man who was fatally shot by Sarasota police during a June 2012 traffic stop.

Manatee County NAACP Emergency Meeting
Natasha Clemons, mother of Rodney Mitchell and first cousin to Corey Mobley, addresses the audience. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

“My first cousin Corey Mobley was shot and killed, some say execution style, by a Manatee Sheriff,” Clemons said. Clemons added, “So what do you have to say about that Mr. Wells? You’re the head.”

According to Manatee Sheriff Office statistics featured in a June 2016 WWSB ABC 7 article,“50 percent of the suspects in those officer involved shootings were black. Compared to the City of Bradenton’s overall black population, which is only 16 percent according to the most recent information from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Jones feels optimistic that the future organizational plans will be a step in the right direction, but they do have a limited effect.

“We can rattle all the cages that we want to, but if we don’t make changes in legislation, laws, policy and procedure, we really haven’t done anything but make noise,” Jones said.

For more information on the organizing efforts of the NAACP and Answer Suncoast, click here.

(Correction, 5:03 p.m: This story was edited to correct that Natasha Clemons is a first cousin, not ex-wife of Corey Mobley. We regret the error.)

The Prospects of Housing Bradenton’s Homeless in 2018

According to the Point in Time census survey conducted this year by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the total number of homeless persons has declined from 474 in 2016, to 328 persons this past year. Despite this decrease in the number of homeless people in town, the City of Bradenton’s community redevelopment plan is a top priority for Bradenton officials heading into 2018.

(Avery Burke, senior specialist of homeless outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital in Bradenton, Florida, describes his journey to homeless outreach in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017. Information Source: Alex M Buono)

Avery Burke (see video above) is the senior specialist in Homeless Outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital’s access center located in Bradenton, Florida. For Burke, a lifelong resident of Bradenton, coming into the awareness of the scale and size of Bradenton’s homeless population was a revelation he didn’t have until he started his professional journey.
 
“Once the door was open, it was like a mind-opening experience,” said Burke. “I didn’t notice all of this was there.”
 
According to the recommendations of the City of Bradenton’s Community Development Block Grant Program Consolidated Action Plan for the years 2017 to 2021, a stated goal for transitional housing is a city-subsidized program overseen by a non-profit with experience in transitional housing. The recent increase in population growth of residents in Bradenton and Manatee Counties as reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2016, make the efforts for transitional and long-term housing of the homeless all the more urgent.
 
“We researched how we can do more affordable stuff,” Burke said. He continued, “You have the push on tiny homes, tiny home communities, all of the smaller; style one and two-person homes that can be built more affordably.”
 
In recent years, the downtown area of Bradenton has been undergoing an urban renaissance with the expansion of the Village of the Arts (VOTA) and the creation of the Bradenton Riverwalk. In 2013, the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority (DDA) proposed the multi-year urban revitalization project entitled “The Village Tapestry.” In June of 2015, the DDA stated that the goal for the Village of the Arts expansion was to acquire properties for mixed-used redevelopment that are, “targeted to a mix of Millennials, Boomers, and creative professionals who want to live, work, create, and play in an Urban Environment.”
 
Professor James Wright, co-author of Poor and Homeless in the Sunshine State: Down and Out in Theme Park Nation and the Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Florida, says this type of housing focus is not new to the state.
 
“The absurdity and the tragedy is that the state has been through four decades of housing and population growth yet almost no attention has been paid to housing the poor. So, while there is lots of housing, there is very little affordable housing,” Burke said.
 
Wright added, “And what little there is, is threatened by gentrification and ‘revitalization’ efforts.”
 
The multiple projects for downtown revitalization have faced some pushback in the recent years, most volubly during a June 2015 city council vote, in which the council consolidated its control over the various community redevelopment agencies because some community members appealed to the council for more community involvement.

(Artist Mark Burrow describes the transformation of the Village of the Arts in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017. Information Source: Alex M Buono)

One newcomer to the Village of the Arts neighborhood, Mark Burrow (see video above), owner of the Art Junkies gallery and a longtime Sarasota resident and artist, cautioned that the City of Bradenton might be losing focus due to the multiple projects. “We’re still not done here. This (VOTA) has been almost twenty years in the making, and we’re still not connected to the Riverwalk.” Burrow added, “So starting new projects, great, but kinda focus on one at a time.”
To Avery Burke, the solution to house the homeless population in Bradenton is reaching out to those landlords and building owners willing to help. “It’s finding that person that has a heart and is willing to help in putting in as many people as they can.”
 
For more information on Centerstone’s mental health services, click here.
 
For more information on the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, click here.