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Q&A With District 10 City Council Candidate Brenda Priestly Jackson

Brenda Priestly Jackson
District 10 City Council Democratic candidate Brenda Priestly Jackson

With less than a month to go before the May 14 runoff election, WJCT is profiling the candidates in the 5 City Council races.

District 10 City Council Democratic candidate Brenda Priestly Jackson is an attorney and the Executive Director of Dynamic Education Foundation, Inc., which prepares high school athletes with NCAA eligibility, as well as helps with high school graduation and college enrollment. Jackson served on the Duval County School Board from 2002 until 2010.

The seat Jackson is running for is being vacated by Republican Councilman Terrence Freeman, who’s now a candidate for the At-Large Group 1 seat against former chair of the Duval County Democratic Party Lisa King. Former Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Freeman to replace indicted and suspended Councilman Reggie Brown last year.   

Jackson sued Gov. Scott alleging the appointment of Freeman was unlawful because he didn’t live in the District. Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace III dismissed the suit.

Jackson is running against Democrat Celestine Mills.


What do you consider the most pressing issue facing District 10?

I think educational alignment. I am a firm believer that we're all created for a unique purpose, and being a part of discovering what the purpose of service and living a fulfilled life with a good job and taking care of yourself and your loved ones is through education.

I think that the misalignment, let me be clear: I'm not saying I think Duval County Public Schools is a bad school district - it’s not. We worked really hard. Those that are on the board now and the superintendent, Dr. Greene, are working really hard. Their predecessors, Dr. Vitti and others worked really hard.

What I'm saying is that if we don't graduate young people timely from high school, there's a direct correlation between our failure to graduate them timely and then they’re not having opportunities after they get out of school, and ending up in crime. So, we must graduate them timely, with the skills that they need to go on and do something post-secondary.

In my ideal dream world, everybody will get a four year degree, but I understand that may not be what's going to happen with everybody. But an honest conversation is that our young people who graduate Duval County Public Schools must have two years post-secondary something.  

So, whether it's an apprenticeship program, or an associate's degree, or some other kind of work skill that they have, under the tutelage of someone else, or going into the military, we've got to make certain that we hook them when they're in the school district, not when they're about to graduate.

Perhaps leaving middle school to high school, particularly those populations that are most challenged. And those populations tend to be young men, young men of color, young men of color, who may be economically challenged.

Would you support imposing impact fees on developments or raising a sales tax to generate revenue to help with the Duval School District’s repair and replace costs?

I take a different vantage point of why we have schools in such a state of disrepair. Duval County Public Schools maintained separate but unequal school districts for 17 years after Brown v. the Board of Education. So Brown #1 came out in 1954 and Brown #2 came out in 1956. And then Duval County Public Schools did not desegregate its students until 1971. That's a problem. So in essence, you kept building separate schools for African-American black students, and you kept building separate schools for white students, so that caused an abundance in inventory. So I think we have to wrestle with that.

If you wrestle with that, then you'll say this is not a Duval County Public Schools problem that can be resolved just with impact fees, which maybe should be explored, I don't know.

It says it’s a Jacksonville consolidated government city problem because you didn't comply with Brown. So I would propose that we have what I like to think of as a better Jacksonville 2.0 plan.

We could perhaps have a dedicated funding source for young people for intervention programs, particularly with those nonprofits and other providers who've shown great success over the years. We could deal with the infrastructure needs of Jacksonville that are unfulfilled based on consolidation 50-years-ago, and we could have funding for our schools to deal with the facilities.

So, I think it cannot be separated because it's, you know, Duval County home rule. We're consolidated. That's why we have the only term limited school board in the state of Florida. It's a Jacksonville problem. So, I don't I don't want the school district in any way to feel that they created it, or it's theirs to solve. It's all of ours to solve together.

There needs to be a bond referendum that funds all of those things together, nothing in isolation. I mean, I think we have one chance to kind of redress some past wrongs and things that we didn't fully fund and take care that we promised that we would.  

If elected, what would you do to curb crime?

I trust [Sheriff] Mike Williams. He's a chief, you know, and I didn't run on a crime platform. I don't have it as a separate problem. I have education, economic opportunity and quality of life. And we talked about crime as a part of that. Data will show that crime is not a unique problem to District 10, 7, 8 or 9, it's a problem throughout Jacksonville.

For those areas that have crime, we tend to count it different ways. So for example, crimes that happened on school grounds or other places in the city may not go into the total numbers for that area.

So, I think that we have to have a comprehensive approach to how we address crime in Jacksonville in its totality. I think if you send the message to young people that we value, respect their lives, and you show that you value their lives by giving them meaningful opportunities to go on, and ultimately take care of themselves and fully participate in our economy, they will reduce the number of crimes. It will definitely reduce the number of shootings and murders and things like that.

One of the two sites of the Cure Violence Program is going to be in your district. What do you think about the program and its approach to crime prevention?

I'm not as familiar with it, honestly. There are more than enough good folks that are going to dedicate their energies and time to doing that. I'm willing to support whatever work comes from those committees and community input. But I'm not running on crime.

I'm going to have that focus on the education, economic opportunity, and quality of life. I don't know that it needs another pair of eyes looking at it. We've done this historically. I like to stay in my lane. And what I know is education, I know economic opportunity through business, and I think I have a pretty good feel for quality of life issues in District 10.

The City of Jacksonville has been working on addressing food deserts in on the Northwest side. How do you think the issue should be addressed?

I think that there are things that we can address. But again, I think that we have the infrastructure in place through the local supermarkets and mom and pop stores to make certain that we bolster and build them up to provide the resources that the communities need.

I don't know exactly what area in Jacksonville someone was saying has no access to a grocery store, or a corner store convenience store.  Again, most do. We just want to make certain what those stores are carrying are the foods and other products that the community needs and fosters a healthy lifestyle. I'm open to being educated. If there is some area that doesn't, I'm just not aware of it.

I think that we just want to make certain that we have high quality, fresh fruits and vegetables, reasonably priced, and that we don't  have things that predominate our grocery stores and our corner stores that exacerbate health issues that are already there.  We know we tend to have higher populations with hypertension and diabetes. 

I think that we have to have a commitment from the supermakets and others here that we're still going to put what we think are healthy foods, even if there aren't the same demands that may be in another part of town. For those areas that folks find hard to get to a grocery store, I think that we have a world class public transportation system. I mean the very idea of having public transportation in the largest city in the continental United States is fascinating. We just have to make certain that it's accessible, reasonable and all that. 

Should the city be doing more to address sea level rise? If so, what?

We have to wrestle within Jacksonville that we are a port city. We're on the shore. Out beaches are beautiful. The port provides so much economic growth and viability here for us, there are conversations about the deepening of the port, which is going to need a mitigation fund for the negative impact to certain others around [the area].

I think that whatever type of comprehensive environmental advocacy and justice initiatives we are going to undertake will deal with sea level rise, which will deal with flooding that we've seen now since we are in a hotbed of hurricanes, and other diverse weather incidents.

I think that we have to have a constructive way of addressing that and an honest conversation with citizens about what the cost is going to look like in terms of taxes or fees to do that. The beauty is the work has already been done.

One thing about Jacksonville - and again - there's probably not an issue that we haven’t had a commission to study and report out on. What I hope we do now is act on some of the reports. Seriously, we love the studies. And I think that's great. I just want to see a little more action on that.

I know that riverkeepers are involved in certain initiatives. I'm sure if we were to pull together all the diverse interest groups have environmental concerns, and the ones that are also dealing specifically with sea level rise - they've got some recommendations we have to hear and we have to trust them. We have to be willing to implement what they suggest that we should do.

What issue or type of legislation do you see yourself leading?

I plan to lead some kind of legislation that coordinates activity between the City of Jacksonville with the City Council and the Duval County School Board that relates to academic achievement requirements for students in high school and summer work opportunities, based on a sliding scale of the academic achievement. And the summer work somehow being aligned with programs of two year post-secondary work or an associate’s degree or a four year degree, particularly focused on the neediest population which are often young men, young men of color, but young men will participate as well, and those that are economically fragile.     

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, or on Twitter at @abukaradan17

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.