DeSantis is rolling back decades of progress on Black civil rights; it’s time to fight back

Adora Obi Nweze

Since taking office, Gov. Ron DeSantis has waged a calculated assault on the rights of Black Floridians. If our community doesn’t fight back with the “fierce urgency of now” invoked by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., our children and grandchildren will likely face a bleak future in this state.

Before he was even elected, DeSantis signaled his intentions when he used a racial slur against his Black gubernatorial opponent. His actions in office have only reinforced his bias against Black Floridians.

He strong-armed the Legislature into racially gerrymandering the state’s congressional districts, directly resulting in reduced Black representation in Congress. He imposed numerous changes to election laws to suppress turnout, and gutted a constitutional amendment, overwhelmingly approved by voters, restoring voting rights to more than a million Floridians, many of them Black. In a transparent attempt to intimidate Black voters, he created a taxpayer-funded state agency that has abused its power by charging Floridians, mostly Black, with scurrilous voter fraud charges.

This governor’s assault on Black Floridians doesn’t stop at voting rights. He has sought to undermine school diversity, equity and inclusion programs, restricted lessons on Black history, and launched an epidemic of book banning in Florida schools. All these actions illustrate clearly the threat posed by DeSantis and his allies. 

It’s time to fight back and defend our freedoms in the so-called “Free State of Florida.” We can’t afford to sit idly by and hope someone else stands up for us. We must be the change we want to see in Florida.

We need to be engaged in what’s happening in the Legislature, making sure these politicians, from both parties, know we’re watching, and we’ll hold them accountable come Election Day. Call your legislators, and show up to their offices if you can. Make sure they know we’re not sitting around waiting to hear from them anymore because they’re going to be hearing from us. Then, make sure you, your family, friends, and colleagues are educated about how they’re trying to suppress our vote and attack our freedoms. Make sure you’re registered, get out and exercise your right to vote.

The two leading contenders for the 2024 Republican nomination for president – Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis – are both from Florida and they have led the attacks on people of color. With so much at stake, it’s fair to say Florida stands at the crossroads of America’s future and we, as Black Floridians, are on the front lines. Will our civil rights be stripped away, or will we rise up and fight for the rights of future generations, as those who came before did for us? 

Preventing further rollbacks of our civil rights will require an earnest and ongoing effort across our state, and the NAACP Florida State Conference is well-positioned to lead that effort with Black Florida behind us.

Florida is at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to silence Black voices and erase the history and experiences of Black people. We’ve seen escalating rhetoric against so-called “woke” Floridians – DeSantis’ not-so-subtle code for Blackness, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, or anyone else who disagrees with him. These attacks are meant to distract and divide Floridians, solely to serve DeSantis’ aspiration to be president.

These attacks increasingly jeopardize public safety, particularly for ours and other marginalized communities. Last month, as state lawmakers rammed through more anti-Black education legislation, the NAACP Florida State Conference of Branches membership voted unanimously to request a travel advisory from our National Board of Directors warning fellow Black Americans to be cautious about travel to Florida. They will make a decision when they meet in May.

The statement we issued said, “The NAACP will not stand still while our culture is attacked. Our children, indeed, all children, deserve to learn about African American history. Our history is built on commitment, resilience, and overcoming bigotry, racism, and discrimination. If the Governor hasn’t learned that by now, we are apt to teach him about the strength our people.’’

During the height of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Florida’s current political landscape is a stark reminder that the arc doesn’t bend without all of us working together.

Adora Obi Nweze, Ph.D., was conferred the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa July 30, 2021, by the Florida A&M Board of Trustees upon the recommendation of the President and Faculty. Dr. Nweze received her Bachelor’s Degree from Fayetteville University and Master’s Degree from University of Miami. She has done Graduate Studies in Education, Guidance and Counseling, Intellectual Disabilities, Social Specific Learning Disabilities and Psychology. Presently, she is President, NAACP Florida State Conference of Branches, Member, NAACP National Board of Directors, Chair, Education Committee and Vice Chair Emergency Management.

 


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