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GUEST POST: MLK Day of Service Brings Attention to the Northside, Calls for Jacksonville Pride

Clayton Levins is the Manager of Community Affairs for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and a JPEF Public Ed Ambassador. He attended the community meeting and shares his reflections below.


Growing up in Jacksonville, I remember the days when my dad would take me over to the Dreamette in Riverside. It was a rare treat, but a treat nonetheless; the butterscotch milkshake would rock anyone’s world. Besides the undeniable deliciousness that the soft-serve ice cream parlor delivered to every patron, I look back on those trips and I remember as a child wondering, why did the scenery change? As I moved across the Buckman Bridge, why did the buildings change? Why did buildings become older? Why were things different from community to community within our own city?

Fast forward to 2018. Over the years, I can say I’ve garnered a few more insights about why I asked those questions when I was younger. On January 15th, our country honored the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. through church sermons, parades, celebratory breakfasts and lunches, crucial conversations, governmental decrees and acts of love and service. I had the privilege of sitting in on a crucial conversation with community residents at the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation (CDC), which is a not-for-profit that provides services, programs and engagement for residents in Jacksonville’s Northside neighborhoods. Its CEO, Paul Tutwiler, is a truly engaged and transformational leader for Jacksonville.

At the CDC, representatives of the United Way of Northeast Florida (United Way) and the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF), along with a multitude of volunteers, gathered together to hand out needed school supplies and books to children in the community. It was inspiring to see so many stewards giving their time to such a worthy cause. As a member of the United Way of Northeast Florida’s Stein Fellowship program and JPEF’s Public Education Ambassador program, it was even more meaningful to take part in service with two organizations that I care deeply for.

The beauty of the day at Northwest Jacksonville CDC was that it contributed to a larger effort by United Way, JPEF and other organizations in Northeast Florida. Our crucial conversation pulled together adult and student members of the community to participate in discussions that would go toward collecting data for the United Way’s Southern Economic Mobility Project. In turn, this information would be collected to inform decisions among partners that are designed to enhance efforts for providing needed services to various Northeast Florida regions. The project is creating transformational change in areas of need.

Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, JPEF’s Executive Vice President, and I spoke with adult residents, while Kristellys Estanga, JPEF’s Community Mobilization Manager, and Maira Martelo, JPEF’s Community Mobilization Director, spoke to the students of the area. We took residents through a list of questions that asked for their input on how their area can be mobilized to influence change, what changes would they like to see in the area and how Jacksonville could see greater equity created throughout the city. The conversation, to say the least, was motivating.

As I sat back and listened, I heard many themes that were consistent with my work in other areas of Jacksonville. Within the district, there are calls for greater unity, a singular identity, greater engagement from residents and more community pride. External from the district, there are calls for more economic mobility, an understanding of services provided, and, arguably most powerful all, a listening ear. All valued points, all needed for the district and our city. At the end of the conversation, the most important question was asked: how do we actionably go about creating this change? The need for greater workforce development, more opportunities in schools to receive a quality education and strategic investments from large businesses/organizations (i.e. University of Florida Health) in the area, all came up as action items. JPEF and the United Way will take the information back to their sources and discuss among key stakeholders, which will allow for greater cohesion among interested parties.

As influential as the conversation was and will be for JPEF and the United Way, I feel it equally important that we as engaged residents of Jacksonville do not sit idly by while there are needs to be met in our community. Yes, service speaks for itself, MLK Day is EVERY day. The notions of love, service and compassion should be values that permeate our every action to our fellow humans. You as a resident can go to your local district council representative, agencies in the area, homeowner groups and more to build a network of community champions that promotes positive change. It all begins with stepping forward and positioning both the mind and heart towards acts that benefit the greater good.