Don’t Shoot the Messenger
By Greg Jackson, Esq.
As I wrote this piece, the phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger,” kept echoing in my head; that is until I came to grips with the fact that I neither created nor perpetuated the situation, but rather found myself trying to explain it. With that said, this week I wanted to take a different direction. Instead of focusing on violence, crime and the lack of economic development in the area of Apopka south of 441, I wanted to take some time to point to some of the positive projects taking place in the City. I wanted to give kudos for the $1.5 million that has been brought to the city through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to renovate Alonzo Williams Park. I also wanted to highlight the $75,000.00 that the City is receiving to update the playground equipment in Kitt-Land-Nelson Park. Additionally, congratulations are in order for the City’s summer youth employment program that is entering its third year, has garnered national attention and much-deserved accolades for the Mayor.
All these things I wanted to do, until Sunday when I drove down Central Boulevard with my 13- year-old child who commented, “I didn’t know we had third world communities in our country.” Initially, I was taken aback because even though I identify Vietnam, Cuba, and Eritrea as third world countries and have travelled the world and seen the slums of Panama, Thailand, and others, I never felt that our state, much less Apopka, had the poverty that I witnessed on the back streets of those countries to warrant such a statement. Trying to understand just why anyone would think such a thing, I forced myself to see the area through the eyes of a young person, who is full of promise, full of optimism and had never seen real poverty. I wanted to view the surrounding area from the perspective of a young mind that had not yet experienced the harsher realities of life, where “disparate treatment” and “economic disadvantage” were not a part of their everyday vocabulary.
I allowed myself to see the abandoned, broken down structures that should have housed small businesses through the eyes of a person who knew nothing of redevelopment strategies that could ignite the economic engine of the community. As the young children darted between their homes with boarded up windows, blue-tarped roofs and leaning foundations, I saw this as a teenager who felt that children deserve to grow up in homes that are structurally sound with windows to peer out of and roofs that provide cover from the elements. From that viewpoint, I could understand how one could view this as a place that should not be.
More than anyone else, I want to highlight all of the good that is Apopka; however, I cannot ignore the fact the there is still work to be done. It is not enough to build and grow around “South Apopka” and assume that any growth for the City will trickle down to the residents. Instead, we must be intentional about knowing the needs of the community and how best to address those needs. I could easily ignore what I see and say that progress is coming or has arrived. However, I realized that if I allowed myself, like others, to believe that this is acceptable, I would say nothing and convince myself that people are happy with the way things are.
Again, I must commend the City for the park renovations, new playground equipment, and summer jobs program. But, if those kids leave the parks and go to homes with sub-standard plumbing, a failing structure, exposed electrical wiring, etc., doesn’t that have more of an impact on them than a few hours playing? If those kids leave a summer job and go back into a community that is lacking job opportunities from within or economic development opportunities to help the community to become sustainable, what impression does that leave in them?
Believe me, as a business- and economic development-minded person, who has provided guidance and direction to businesses and communities, I look forward to the day that my pen will dry up, not because I am writing so much about the conditions I see, but because I have left the top off with nothing more to write in this regard. But, until there are real effort and progress in bringing economic development opportunities to all areas of Apopka, I will continue to sound this horn, I will continue to share my insights, and I will continue to do this all – in my humble opinion.