In Plant City's black community, some leave due to lack of opportunities

Published June 14, 2012

After high school, William Thomas Jr. spent a decade away from his hometown of Plant City.

He served in the military, went to college and began a career in public relations.

Then he moved back.

That's not the case, though, for everyone in Plant City's black community.

Many people are leaving and aren't coming back, said Thomas, who volunteers as vice president of the Improvement League of Plant City.

Between 2000 and 2010, the black population of Plant City was nearly stagnant, rising by only a few hundred people, according to Census data. Blacks accounted for 15.1 percent of the city's population in 2010.

The lack of educational and career opportunities has a lot to do with it, Thomas said.

The city is working hard to change that.

City Commissioners voted to rezone an area once thriving with black-owned businesses so it can again become a center for minority entrepreneurship, said City Commissioner Mary Thomas Mathis.

In recent years, the city has put money into the minority community, Thomas Mathis said. Projects include the construction of Cooper's Pond park, the addition of low-income housing and contributing to the renovation of the Bing Rooming House.

Though Thomas Mathis said she understands the reasons young blacks leave Plant City, she knows it's important to have them come back.

"Others that have left, maybe for the military or jobs, they've come back to give back," Thomas Mathis said, "and I just hope that cycle continues."

Shelley Rossetter, Times staff writer