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Jax Social Justice Committee Receives Criticism As It Works Through Ideas

Brenda Priestly Jackson speaking to a crowd with other members of the city and state government standing behind her at the entrance of City Hall.
Sky Lebron
The Social Justice and Community Investment Committee will have $2.6 to $2.8 million to work on projects that mitigate economic and social inequities.

The Jacksonville City Council’s Social Justice and Community Investment Committee is outlining potential projects to work on with its more than $2 million in funding.

In previous meetings, each of the council members outlined what they believed are the most important issues facing the city to provide social justice and equitable economic opportunity. 

Committee Chair Brenda Priestly-Jackson asked that each of the committee members list a short number of board priorities, and work on creating bills to work on those community issues, or hold a public meeting that other members of the City Council could get involved in. 

The potential bills include beautification projects for down-trodden neighborhoods, mental health initiatives for recently incarcerated individuals, affordable healthcare, emergency crime response programs, infrastructure improvements, and a special tax district to help fund children’s services. 

But Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who joined the meeting as a guest, said he was concerned with the ideas the committee was coming up with.

“It seems as though we are still trying to fund the same old programs,” Gaffney said. “What my community’s been talking about for years - the same old, same old. That’s not what I thought the intent was.” 

Gaffney suggested holding a meeting with members of the community to look at “real social justice ideas.”

Priestly Jackson responded that only some of the money was going toward initiatives brought up by the committee’s members near the beginning of its formation in June, and that other issues would be addressed as the meetings continued. 

Community members who called into the meeting also voiced their displeasure with the committee’s progress.

“Everything that you’re doing is not progressive enough,” said Carnell Oliver. “And it’s not strong enough, in my mind. The way I see things right now, you have a responsibility to do something more innovative.” 

“Structural racism is at the core of these issues in our community, and I don’t think you have all been listening, because that word is never mentioned in your meetings. Racism isn’t talked about much,” said Bobbie O’Connor.    

Priestly Jackson said she believed there was a disconnect between what the community thought the committee’s goals were, which is not based on race.

“That’s not the charge of this committee,” Priestly Jackson said. “It’s the Social Justice and Community Investment Committee, and with that in mind, that means allocating budgetary dollars for services to our neighbors in Jacksonville who we feel have not received equity.”

According to the city’s website, “The goal of the committee is to further equal access and opportunity for all citizens of Jacksonville and to strive to establish programs and policies which serve to eradicate systemic bias as well as honor the unfulfilled promises of consolidation.” 

Over the next few weeks, the committee members will hold meetings on their particular bills, so they can hear from other City Council members and tweak the legislation before formally introducing it. 

The next Social Justice and Community Investment Committee is slated for October 12. 

Former WJCT News reporter