From Georgia to Frenchtown

Malone urges community leaders to be proactive

Rev. Fer-Rell Malone Sr. engaging his audience at a breakfast meeting last Friday at Ms. Dee’s Kitchen in Frenchtown.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

On his way from Waycross, Ga., Rev. Fer-Rell Malone Sr., passed by a few affluent communities during his trip to deliver an information-laden message in the heart of Frenchtown, one of the communities he hoped will benefit from his presence.

He delivered an eye-opening message last Friday, giving his audience at Ms. Dee’s Kitchen insight on how they could make their neighborhood resemble the ones he saw on his trip. He gave a history lecture on Blacks and ties to Africa, then he went on to reiterate benefits in the American Rescue Plan specifically for Blacks.

The American Rescue Plan, which Pres. Joe Biden signed in March provides millions of dollars for improving Black communities, said Malone, pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Waycross. He also urged his listeners to seek out resources, which he said are mostly found in places  that symbolize injustice to Blacks — often courthouses and city halls.

He also said organizations like the Frenchtown/Southside Political Community Action Committee, which hosted his visit, should be watchdogs for where money from the rescue plan is spent.

“Go to your city commission,” he said. “Go to your county commission. Go to your board of Education. Go to your state legislature.”

The American Rescue Plan is the latest benefits package from the federal government to reboot the economy. At the same time, a portion of the $1.9 trillion package is allocated to be spent on vaccine and vaccinating communities against the coronavirus.

Florida’s portion of the recovery plan is approximately $17.6 billion, most of which will be filtered down to municipal governments statewide. The City of Tallahassee is expecting $46.2 million, funding that the city has to apply for annually in two allotments.

 Meanwhile, a report from a recent budget meeting indicated that $16.6 million will go to the underserved, including the homeless and residents of affordable housing.

Leon County has already assisted about 3,000 households from $51.2 million it received during the first round of the CARES Act. It recently began another round of assisting with rent and utility bills from American Rescue Plan funds.

Malone recommended that community leaders be expeditious about moving to get federal dollars spent on improving their neighborhoods. 

“You aren’t getting a handout,” he said. “You’re getting your fair share of your money.”

First-term city Commissioner Jack Porter, who along with commissioner Jeremy Matlow were in the audience, said she is willing to support any government plan that would do more for improvements in Frenchtown.

“The history of underinvestment; that’s got to change,” she said. “It is by design that we are where we are. It didn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t an oversight and we’ve got to reevaluate our priorities as a community and invest where it’s most needed.”

Matlow suggested that any significant change in the pace of fixing community needs could mean a shakeup of the board.

“We have the money now from the federal government (and) we have needs in our community,” he said. “We need to go spend it.”

He went on to praise the effort by organizers of the Friday morning meeting.

“We are at a point where people are willing to organize and come out over breakfast to demand better,” he said. “We can’t understate the importance of community organizing and pushing the message.”

However, pastor Lee Johnson, who heads up the Frenchtown/Southside Political Action Committee, wasn’t too sure one visit to city or county government could get funds released. His primary concern was about cutting through the politics and bureaucracy.

“Everybody feels like they’ve got to get a little piece of the pie before it gets to where it’s intended,” said Johnson, pastor at Loved by Jesus Family Church. “It’s just the system that we live in and until we break the cycle of the system where you get people elected who really care and are not looking out for what they can get but looking out for what they can do for the community, we’re going to continue to have this problem. This is not a brand-new problem.”

But Rev. Don Tolliver, vice president of the local chapter of the National Action Network, was quick to point out that the allotted community improvement funds are coming from a mandate in Biden’s executive order.

Whatever money is released to rebuild local communities should be for significant projects, Tolliver said.

“I don’t mean palm trees,” he said. “I don’t mean sidewalks. I mean improvements to the neighborhoods and things that help neighborhood insurance rates go down.

“It’s like a lot of people misunderstand the purpose that they are leaders. The leader is to be for everyone. You cannot be selective and be a person who sits to the side and say only this is going to happen.”

Malone plans to take a similar message to at least 50 areas in Georgia, with Thomasville, Ga., being the closest stop to Tallahassee on June 17. The bus tour that he’s billed as the “Liberation Tour” started on Tuesday and will continue through Aug. 31.

The tour is supported by several sponsors, including Fort Valley State University and the Georgia Coalition of Black Chambers of Commerce.

Voting rights, COVID-19 vaccine and a vision on improving Black communities are the primary topics.

“We want to educate, empower and equip,” Malone said. “Our vision is an awakening.”

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