ST. PETERSBURG — After a recent string of gun violence that killed eight young men and teenagers in as many weeks, the mayor said he took a walk through the city's Midtown area.
What he found, he said, represents the disenfranchisement and despair plaguing poor neighborhoods: young men on their stoops in the middle of the school day, young men at home instead of at work.
On Sunday, at the midpoint of his first term, Mayor Rick Kriseman pledged to find $1 million in the city's budget to invest in St. Petersburg's young black males, an effort to "answer this crisis" by getting at its root causes — quickly.
"While we have many plans in place to make generational change, our young men don't have that time," he said to an audience at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. "We need to make a difference for them today."
The source of the $1 million remains undetermined, but Kriseman said he's confident Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin and City Administrator Gary Cornwell will find the money.
The city plans to create a task force to determine the priorities, such as job training and support for businesses, among other ideas.
"If we want to break the cycle of poverty and really lift up south St. Petersburg, it has to be a long-term approach," the mayor said. "It is the right thing to do."
More than 350 people attended the city's ''Sunday Best Supper'' under the oaks in front of the Woodson Museum, where city leaders spoke about their efforts in south St. Petersburg.
"We find that so many of our ideas are limited by resources," Tomalin said. "So the thought was, at one time, to make an investment that allows these great ideas to be scalable."
In the audience, 44-year-old Kamara Cooper, a former Gibbs High School teacher, said she hopes to join the task force to emphasize a focus on education.
"Our African-American males need some redirection and hope," she said. "We are not preparing these students to be able to go out into the world, and that's where the hopelessness lies."
City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Brown, whose son was murdered in 2008, said she teared up at Kriseman's pledge.
"Nobody has ever done that, and for him to dedicate something like that to our community shows he cares," she said. "To get some of these resources to help, I was just overwhelmed."
Several in the audience said the city's optimism is promising, but said they will withhold judgment until they see results. Their ideas for investment spanned education, the arts, public safety, small business and more.
In all, the investment represents a small step in a longer journey, said Ashley Green, 26, an organizer with Florida Public Services Union. She said she'd like to see job prospects that rise above the minimum wage.
"It's no secret that both men and women in south St. Pete really need access to quality jobs," she said. "I think a lot of young folks are going around without dreams right now."
Kriseman said recent crimes — gun deaths, car thefts, robberies — were in part a catalyst for Sunday's announcement. Victims and their killers, he said, both represent broken promises.
"Those are the lives we read about, the stories that stir our souls," he said to the crowd. "But there are many other stories that never make the paper, many other lives that may not end in violent death, but languish in a harsh reality all the same. These stories are the key to change."
Contact Claire McNeill at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321.