Jacksonville officials and civil-rights leaders gathered at the Prime Osborn Center Friday for an annual breakfast honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s the 30th year the city has hosted the event.
But the Jacksonville branch of the group King founded — the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — said it’s likely the last time it will participate unless the city makes changes on the other 364 days of the year.
At the event’s outset, Mayor Lenny Curry invoked the tenets of King’s brand of activism.
“As we gather what would’ve been Dr. King’s 88th birthday, we are provided an opportunity to reflect on his remarkable, remarkable legacy and the principles on which he based his life work,” he said. “The principles of courage, love, understanding, respect, justice and reconciliation.”
But SCLC Board Chair Juan Gray considers Curry’s remarks hollow.
“I am absolutely appalled that the mayor would have a presentation that includes the word reconciliation,” he said. “Reconciliation is a hallmark of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
Gray said he doesn't believe the mayor and his predecessors have done enough to address racial and economic disparities, including, most recently, racial discrimination complaints filed by five employees against JEA.
“I have always said this breakfast is a false presentation of reality. We don't deal with the issues before us,” he said.
The breakfast was founded by the SCLC, the Urban League and the NAACP three decades ago, but Jacksonville SCLC founder, Rev. Levy Wilcox, said his group’s future participation is uncertain.
“There are decisions made prior to, decisions made after, we don't know who the hell the speaker’s going to be half the time. We just don't know. If you’re going to be at the table then you need to know and be involved in every part of it, every facet of it,” he said “So, if you don't even know why the hell you’re at the table then why be at the table?”
Urban League leader Richard Danford said his group is also considering pulling out. Meanwhile, NAACP President Isaiah Rumlin said the breakfast will go on with or without the participation of the other two organizations.
The mayor is pushing back on the SCLC’s claims. In a written statement to WJCT, Curry said in “the spirit of One City, One Jacksonville, the community has come together including major employers, public institutions and civic organizations to help find remedies” to racial and economic disparities.
“It is unfortunate that this important work taking place in our community is being undermined today,” Curry said.
Furthermore, his spokeswoman told WJCT he or his staff met six times to discuss a 2013 racial disparity study with all three groups between September 2015 and May of last year:
Gray previously told WJCT the mayor had refused to meet with him.