ST. PETERSBURG — Last week, longtime community activist Lisa Wheeler-Brown became the first black president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.
Wheeler-Brown was first called to public service after her son was killed during a mysterious double murder in 2008. When no arrests were made and the case went cold, she pushed for answers, criticizing the "no snitching" culture and trying to get people to talk to police. She started a foundation to support victims' families and campaigned against the violence taking a toll in the black community.
She didn't give up, and earlier this year, thanks in large part to her work, her son's killer was sent to prison for life.
The Times spoke with Wheeler-Brown, 45, on Tuesday about her latest endeavor, taking the helm of CONA, one of St. Petersburg's most influential community organizations.
What do you think the biggest issues are facing the neighborhoods?
Public safety and community policing. And also we haven't been able to get really anything done with the (code department) for the past year, and that's what the neighborhoods are really screaming about.
What's your plan to rectify those issues?
Well, since we have a new mayor, sitting with him and just coming up with a plan. The neighborhoods that are participating in CONA really are looking forward to this new mayor and this new working relationship, so hopefully we can have a better relationship with City Hall, with the city, that can get some things done for the neighborhoods.
How significant do you think it is that CONA has elected a black female president?
Well, a change has come. I think with a new mayor, a new police chief and a new person over CONA, I think that's important because we want to move the city forward and this will give us all an opportunity to work together and kind of unify our community, and I'm all for that. I'm all for unity, and it's just not about the south side, it's about the north side, east, west — St. Pete as a whole.
On that topic of different neighborhoods, do you think that there has been a division in how black and white neighborhoods are treated as it relates to city services?
Yes, I do. Because each neighborhood is different and they have different needs. I live in Midtown and I could show you some pictures of how our neighborhoods look compared to the north side. I'm talking everything from the boarded-up houses to unkempt lawns. And don't get me wrong, because I know that it is on the north side also. I know that. But for some reason it seems that the south side is suffering a little bit more.
How do you think you can fix that?
Communicating better is one thing. That's where I'm going to start. Communicating better, following up and just not stopping until we have what we need in all of our neighborhoods.