ST. PETERSBURG — Local store employees came out to watch and errand-goers stopped on their journeys to listen Friday morning to a group of protesters demanding that Bank of America pay financial reparations to the black community.
The voices of the leaders of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, a group dedicated to organizing white support for black-led community social justice, projected up and down 3rd Street from the Bank of America branch where they stood.
The speakers, including Omali Yeshitela, the Chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party, addressed the need for major corporations to recognize their role in the perpetuation of racial economic inequality.
The news conference was in direct response to Bank of America’s announcement last week that the corporation would be committing $1 billion over four years “to help local communities address economic and racial inequality accelerated by a global pandemic,” according to a news release. Protesters say that’s not enough.
“A measly $1 billion for so-called racial equality does not let Bank of America off the hook," said Jesse Nevel, the National Chair for the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, who ran for mayor in 2017.
In response, the group is demanding Bank of America provide funds to the Black Power Blueprint, a black-led organization that aims to create wealth in African-American communities. Bank of America is only one of many banks and corporations in need of paying reparations, protesters said.
"Many people do not understand the role that the banks play in determining what is going to happen in our communities,” said Yeshitela. For him and the other leaders of the Uhuru movement, the decisions by banks to back community projects that contribute to gentrification are sucking resources from the neighborhoods. Specifically, Yeshitela named the development of baseball complexes, including Tropiciana Field, which now stands where black-owned businesses once stood.
The demands for reparations for the black community were rooted in a call to address America’s century-long history of slavery and modern injustices, particularly the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody as an officer knelt on his neck.
For Yeshitela, in order for major corporations to adequately recognize their role in these disparities, they must contribute resources to “the development of the economic power in the African community.”
"Reparations means repair the damage,” said Yeshitela. "Reparations has to mean negating the power and influence of banks like this.”
Representatives for Bank of America didn’t return requests for comment.
• • •
Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.
WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.
WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.