Make South Apopka your North Star
By Reggie Connell, Managing Editor
This is how renowned historian Jerrell H. Shofner ends his book “History of Apopka and Northwest Orange County, Florida” in 1982:
“In the 1970s, city government increased in size, cost, and the range of its services. The national government implemented numerous programs for aiding Apopka and other cities with funds to be expended according to certain prescribed conditions.
At the same time, the ending of Jim Crow segregation, the civil rights movement, and the rising expectations of black citizens created demands for equalization of services and an impatience when the city was slow to respond. Given the housing patterns of the community and the inequalities which had developed over decades, it has been difficult to respond fully to those demands with the alacrity expected.
As the national government applied increasing financial, administrative, and legal pressures to encourage a faster and fuller response to black citizens’ demands, white Apopkans have resented its efforts as another intrusion into local prerogative.
Black Apopkans feel that the city has grown with ease toward the north while the southern boundary has remained stable in the face of extensive growth. They feel that much of their difficulty could be alleviated if the largely black community now in the county could incorporate and city services provided.
On the other hand, city officials and white Apopkans feel that much progress has been made toward alleviating problems from the past, and they have resisted the national government’s legal pressures. Although much time, energy, and money have been consumed in the legal battles, and the goal of equal public service has not been fully attained, there has been notable progress toward it in the past decade.”
Unfortunately, Apopka and Northwest Orange County find themselves in a similar situation today. They are sitting on an influx of money from the federal government and somewhat vague instructions on how to spend it.
And South Apopka looks a lot like it did in 1980.
I wrote an open letter last week to a chamber president and 11 elected officials that represent South Apopka. I asked all of you to do something to help. Collaborate. Be pro-active. Take the initiative. Make South Apopka a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
I can already hear your collective replies…
‘What did you have in mind, Mr. Journalist? It’s easy to sit in front of a keyboard, fire off a few demands, hit publish, and then wait for us to respond.’
And while I would understand that response, I’d like to say a couple of things… first, it’s actually not so easy to publish an online news site, but I assume it’s easier than running Apopka, Orange County, or representing us in Tallahassee and Washington DC.
But hey, that’s why you guys get the big bucks.
And second, in this case, I actually have a LOT of suggestions to move South Apopka forward that you as leaders can use, refine, and put into play. Believe it or not, journalists, elected officials, and community leaders are often on the same team.
Here are my 10 suggestions:
1. A South Apopka Bill of Rights
There are dozens of examples of communities having a bill of rights with their local governments. Usually, they are written to pressure a municipality to enact an ordinance stopping something – like a dollar store, a jail, or a garbage dump.
What I’m proposing is a non-binding Bill of Rights for South Apopka that acts as a promise of integrity from its current leaders to the residents that states they will focus their attention and budgets on this oft-forgotten community.
2. Open the Public Safety Complex in South Apopka
For the past few years, there has been discussion about building a free-standing public safety complex. And given the condition of the Apopka Police Department, it seems as though it’s only a matter of time before that discussion is put on a budget/bond and made a reality. But instead of building on its current location, why not take a bold step and build a little further south? Putting a multi-million dollar facility in South Apopka would send a message to those residents that they are very much a part of Apopka.
3. Open a Magnet School
Magnet schools are public schools of choice, so named because they attract students to their specific educational focus or theme. Magnet schools allow parents and guardians to choose quality programs for their children and students to focus on specific talents or interests while studying a challenging core curriculum of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and languages in a diverse environment.
Magnet schools exist at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels. The one that caught my eye for Apopka was the Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, which focuses on the health and medical professions. This type of magnet school could be a partnering public/private model for Orange County Public Schools and AdventHealth.
4. Fund Child Care Services
For working parents with young children, the task of finding child care can be daunting. And the cost is a barrier to quality services.
The term “child care desert” is not currently part of the American lexicon. But if it were, it’s safe to say South Apopka would qualify. Lack of child care supply is a serious national problem that disproportionately impacts underprivileged areas. Research shows that children who attend public preschool make gains in language, literacy, and math skills. Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington DC, passed a law to expand child-care and early-education services. Nothing is holding Apopka or Orange County back from mirroring this initiative as it applies to underprivileged areas like South Apopka.
5. Provide Broadband Internet
There was a federal debate about broadband internet being considered as part of the infrastructure bill. But in Apopka and Orange County, it would be appropriate to use federal relief funds to bridge the digital divide and expand affordable, high-speed internet access to those who need it the most.
Internet is a necessity in the 21st century. An investment in fiber internet directly to the homes of South Apopka could bridge one of its divides and provide long-term equity to future generations. And the pandemic makes it impossible to ignore how essential broadband is in our daily lives. Consider the following scenarios:
- Young students that were unable to log in to their digital classroom
- Workers without in-home connectivity forced to travel to their job sites
- Retirees were unable to video chat with their families or schedule COVID-19 tests or vaccinations
- Sick people with no access to telehealth services.
It’s no longer a debate. Broadband is essential in 2021, and the residents of South Apopka should have that access in their community.
6. College scholarships
Several U.S. cities and municipalities offer government-sponsored free tuition programs. These programs are either completely or partially free, and most have conditions and mandates that student recipients must follow, similar to the restrictions on state free college tuition programs.
According to savingforcollege.com, there are dozens of municipalities throughout the US offering scholarships to residents, particularly in underprivileged areas of their cities.
7. Finish the Adult Learning Center
Way back in 2013, this project began. I remember writing an article entitled “Light comes to South Apopka” in 2016 when Orange County finally purchased the land, and all seemed well. But several years and projected dates later, the Adult Learning Center looks a lot like it did in 2016 – unfinished.
I have heard the reasoning, and much of it is plausible. But at some point, this highly-touted Adult Learning Center needs to open. I read an article that said this project would be completed in the fall, but now I hear the completion date is late 2022.
Don’t let this become the symbol of bureaucracy holding back a community in need.
8. Provide Affordable Housing Incentives
Housing finance authorities in some Florida counties are providing funds and incentives for developers interested in building affordable housing. Orange County (the housing authority and commission, along with Apopka) could offer financial support and tax incentives to assist in the construction, rehabilitation, and permanent financing of single and multi-family housing developments in South Apopka.
9. Rotate/Add Celebrations and Events to Alonzo Williams Park
It’s a simple step to take. Make Alonzo Williams Park (AWP) the southern version of Kit Land Nelson Park (KLNP). Install a splash pad. Rotate events between KLNP to AWP like the Farmer’s Market, the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Art & Foliage Festival, Saturday Sounds, etc, and also establish events specifically for AWP. Bring these celebrations and events to a part of Apopka that is too accustomed to traveling outside of its neighborhood to see them.
10. Annex South Apopka
Yes, I have heard the reasons against it.
- They voted against annexation in the 80s.
- They may not want to be a part of the City.
- The County has more money to spend on South Apopka.
I’ll stop there and simply say this – Orange County has had long enough to show that it’s focused on South Apopka. There is a growing list of elected officials and community leaders calling for the City of Apopka to take the steps necessary to annex this community that has been a part of Apopka unofficially for decades. The City continues to expand to the north, east, and west – it’s time to look south.
A few disclosures:
I’m aware of Sunshine Laws and how difficult it would be for the 12 of you to simply meet in a room, close the doors and work this out, despite how much sense it would make to take that action. But I urge you to take the measures necessary to constructively discuss this subject and take action.
I’m also aware that despite the windfall of federal dollars you were gifted this year, budgets are budgets, and some of these suggestions may be difficult or take years to accomplish. I would also like to state that although these are listed as “my” suggestions, many of them I have heard from members of the South Apopka community many times before I wrote them down.
I’m not looking for credit on ideas, I’m looking for action from those we have elected or appointed to offices of power and influence. I guess my biggest hope – my 11th suggestion – is that you will start talking about South Apopka. Take more effort to assist them. Let this be a constructive campaign issue in the 2022 election.
I’m also asking the community to add suggestions to this list and let your elected officials know this is important to you.
Yes, it may seem like an idealistic wish list that would bankrupt a fiscally responsible city or county. But I would push back on that assessment and ask you to add up the amount of funding and improvements you have collectively made for South Apopka and divide that by about 100 (years), before making a hasty analysis of funds spent.
Consider it a down payment on a historic, important community that is long overdue. This is an opportunity to invest in the potential and productivity of South Apopka.
Editor’s Note: The Apopka Voice is publishing a series of articles under the heading “Make South Apopka your North Star”. The series will include steps we believe leaders should consider for the advancement of this historic Apopka community. Look for the third installment on Monday, July 19th entitled “What would it take to Annex South Apopka?”.