By Greg Jackson
There is an old saying: "A soldier is never a sergeant amongst his peers." The biblical equivalent, which may sound a bit more familiar to some, goes: "Only in his own hometown is a prophet without honor." While I have used one or the other of these phrases at some point-in-time to explain how the work of certain people is not fully recognized or appreciated, I never really took the time to understand the true effects of these words, no matter the version, until this past week. If you follow my column you are aware that several months ago a group made up of an Apopka-area businessman, a university professor and a local attorney (no this is not the start of a joke) were asked to present their findings to the Apopka City Council from a community-based Task Force. The findings offered solutions to violence and crime in the City through the use of community redevelopment agency (CRA) funds to address the shortage of affordable housing, community policing innovations, economic development, etc. The presentation appeared to be well-received and there was even some hope that the City would follow up with the group to discuss how at least some of the recommendations could be implemented in the City’s underserved areas. The recommendation addressing affordable housing, community policing innovations, and economic development, was actually taken from a prior presentation given just weeks before by the same group. At the preceding presentation, there were also representatives of the City present and strategies to “properly” use CRA funds were highlighted. A show of goodwill was extended as the group offered to meet with City Officials and/or staff to discuss ways to assist the City in moving forward with initiatives to address the use of CRA funds and avoid scrutiny from the Florida Legislature, which was, and still is, looking for reasons to do away with CRAs. Residents who were present or heard about the presentations were excited to get things moving; however, when they asked if there was any progress, sadly, the response back was “no.”
This brings us to the Florida Attorney General’s 32nd Conference on the Prevention of Crime, where again, the group teamed up to speak about strategies to address crime and violence in underserved communities state-wide. Again, the economic approach using CRA funds to address the root causes of crime and violence (i.e., poverty and lack of economic opportunity) were discussed. With the exception of some minor adjustments, the presentation given to representatives from no less than eight municipalities, which included law enforcement, elected officials, educators, non-profit organizations and even some CRA representatives, was practically identical to the presentations given in the City of Apopka. Again, those who heard the presentation, or heard about the presentation from other Conference attendees, were excited to hear how things were going in Apopka with this cutting-edge initiative in place, and sadly, again and to the surprise of many, the group’s response was that no action had been taken as there appeared to be no interest by the City to move forward with this group.
The question of why the group, which is working to better the lives of Apopkans, is not being taken seriously and being brought to the table by the City is a hard one to answer; particularly since the City has shown a willingness to work with groups or persons from outside of the area in the same regard. The best I can muster to answer this question is the old saying we are all now familiar with that goes: “A soldier is never a sergeant amongst his peers.” In evaluating the meaning of these words, I know now that when you deal with people on a regular basis it is easy for them to dismiss or overlook your experience and abilities. As a former infantryman, I understand that soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder in battle with their peers. They go to war with their peers, laugh with their peers and sometimes they even cry with their peers. So, when a soldier is promoted or elevated within the ranks, often times, their peers do not see the soldier for who he has become, but rather the soldier’s peers still view him as the person they remember him to be. This also explains why in most situations when a person is promoted, they are moved to another area so that the new group will see the leader he is and not the person the leader evolved from while amongst his peers.
This, I can tell you is the feeling among the group that presented its findings to the City and various other Apopkans who want to work to make the City a better place, but feel they are being precluded from coming to the table, or worse, that the City will implement the group's ideas without giving them credit. Leaders from within the community, such as the group referenced here, are oftentimes called on to bring their energy and know-how to assist other communities or to commit their efforts to other causes. But for the most part, these leaders, like most loyal and dedicated soldiers, decline because they do not want to take their focus away from the City they have come to love and the people they are committed to serving. However, leaders within Apopka cannot continually be excluded from the table to help make the City a place of inclusion to become a better place to live, work and raise a family. Apopkans want to share their ideas, skills, and abilities to help Apopkans. But, the feeling is that the more these Apopkans try to be a part of the solution, the more they are turned away and others are allowed to take their place at the table. In viewing the situation objectively (and subjectively), it is my estimation that if these “soldiers” are not permitted to become “sergeants” amongst their peers, they will transfer units to be promoted through the ranks elsewhere – in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.