Friday, February 23, 2018
Opinion

Column: St. Petersburg a city of opportunity, inclusion

"St. Petersburg will be a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live work and play. We will be an innovative, creative and competitive community that honors our past, while pursuing our future."

— City of St. Petersburg vision

On occasion, I am fortunate to be the first to arrive on the mayoral wing in City Hall. As dawn breaks, the sun casts the light of a new day and the echo of my footsteps rings out — a reminder to reflect on the significance and promise of opportunity yet to come.

Fifty steps. On those solitary mornings I have often counted. It takes 50 steps to traverse the hallway, a symbolic crossing from our city's past into its bright future. As the city's first female African-American deputy mayor, those 50 steps are a daily acknowledgement of how far our city has come, and a solemn reminder of how far we still have to go.

Today our nation celebrates 50 steps, the number of years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Each year stands as a step toward progress and promise for people throughout America. This historic legislation outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender and national origin. It called for equality in voting rights, access in schools, workplaces and public accommodations. And, perhaps most important, it cast off the cowardly cloak of segregation, ushering in hope and options for many disenfranchised Americans.

In St. Petersburg, this celebration takes on special meaning as the sun symbolically rises on a new day. Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman affirmed our administration's and city's commitment to inclusion with an unprecedented observance of St. Pete Pride. From raising the Pride Flag over City Hall to being the city's first mayor to walk in the annual parade — the largest in the Southeast — Mayor Kriseman made clear his intent to create a welcoming city of opportunity for everyone who calls it home. And Pride is only one example of that commitment. Our administration and entire team of 2,700 servant leaders are committed to the civil rights of every person we are honored to serve. This commitment drives our priorities, planning and action and is evidenced in our policies and practices.

We are proud of the additional investments proposed for the eradication of poverty in our city; inspired by plans to increase access to jobs, skills training and placement for those in need; and humbled by the contributions of ideas, effort and resources by like-minded citizens who are leading the way to change. The efforts of advocacy groups, socially responsible corporations, committed citizens and compassionate public service, at every level of government, is making a difference. Indicators on education, safe neighborhoods, affordable housing and employment opportunities are moving in the right direction, with plans to continue positive momentum.

Pinellas County's achievement gap, while still unacceptable, is shrinking. According to the 2020 Plan, since 2011 black students have narrowed the graduation gap by nearly 4 points. Blighted housing that compromises neighborhoods is under attack. Builders of Hope, Habitat for Humanity and other developers have stepped up with commitments to reinvest and rebuild. And our administration's focus on making services more accessible is evidenced by two satellite offices in traditionally underserved areas and ongoing efforts to transform the local transportation landscape in a way that bolsters opportunity.

While we note progress, we understand there is still much work to be done. Too many people feel a reality tainted with racism, sexism and other systemic oppression. Our administration will continue to engage the community as we work to engineer increased opportunity for all who come to our great city to live, work and play. We are confident that we'll get there together — one step at a time.

Kanika Tomalin is deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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