By Issac Morgan
Dr. Eddy M. Regnier talks to reporters in Ft. Myers. Credit: The Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys’ website.
About a month after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police, as the nation grappled with the aftermath, Gov. Ron DeSantis used his veto authority to cut $150,000 from a council dedicated to improving the lives of Black males in the state.
DeSantis vetoed the money for the Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys as the state began to bleed revenues during COVID-19.
The governor cut other projects as well, budget records show, but Eddy M. Regnier, the chair of the council, was incensed given the atmosphere of race tensions.
“I cannot believe this governor took the money away — just vetoed it,” said Regnier, a clinical and forensic psychologist who operates a private practice in Sarasota.
“We are primarily a research organization and all we can do is collect data and give the data to people who could do something. And I quickly found out that that’s not enough,” Regnier said in a phone interview with the Florida Phoenix.
The Phoenix was interested in doing a story about race relations in Florida following protests over police brutality against people of color, with demonstrations earlier this year in several Florida cities, from Tallahassee to Tampa and Miami.
Gov. Ron Desantis traveled to Merritt Island on July 30, 2020, to view a rocket launch and meet with space industry leaders. Credit: Screenshot
During the conversation, Regnier said DeSantis had refused a meeting with the council, saying “we tried to meet with the governor.”
Later in the discussion, Regnier reiterated: “DeSantis has refused to meet. I don’t think he’s interested in Black people.”
Regnier did mention at one point that former Republican Gov. Rick Scott had “met with me.” He also said that “he [Scott] didn’t have any love for us, but he didn’t have any hatred for us either. He was just neutral.”
But “This one [meaning Gov. DeSantis], I don’t think he likes us. I don’t think he likes Black people.”
The Phoenix requested a comment about Regnier’s remarks from the governor’s communications officials on Monday. The governor’s staff has not yet responded as of Monday evening.
In 2006, the Florida Legislature established the research organization to study negative conditions affecting Black males in Florida and propose measures to reduce high school dropout rates, violent crime, and incarceration rates, according to its website. The studies range from homicide rates to poverty, drug abuse, and death rates.
The council in Florida is considered an important organization. And in fact, earlier this year, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida partnered with Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida to push a bill that was signed into law called the “Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act.”
According to a press release in August, Rubio applauded President Donald Trump for signing the new law.
The press release said, “the bill is in line with the 2006 established Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, which Rubio worked on while in the state Legislature, including appointing members as speaker of the Florida House.”
Yet, around that same time, Gov. DeSantis had already wiped out the state council’s funding.
Some funds cut for historically black private colleges
According to a 2020 veto list posted on the governor’s website, three private historically Black colleges in Florida lost thousands of dollars toward programs and upgrades when DeSantis vetoed projects from the state budget in late June.
$75,000 from Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach for “Small, Women and Minority-Owned Businesses;” $100,000 from Edward Waters College in Jacksonville for an “Online Degree Program Service Provider;”$200,000 for technology upgrades at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens; and $500,000 from Florida Memorial University for “Training for the Future of Aerospace.”
That said, DeSantis did approve millions in funding for those three private historically black colleges, to propel achievement and help retain struggling students, the budget records show. The funding added up to more than $30 million for the three schools.
University presidents praised the governor for his support during a news conference at Bethune-Cookman University in July.
A separate project, called the Black Male Explorers, was also vetoed, at $164,701, budget records show.
DeSantis and race
DeSantis has been questioned about race in the past, while campaigning for governor in 2018.
During the gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate and then-Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum alleged in an October debate that DeSantis “got neo-Nazis helping him out in the state.”
“Let me first say, my grandmother used to say, ‘a hit dog will holler’ and it hollered through this room. … He [DeSantis] has spoken at racist conferences,” Gillum said during the heated televised debate in late October.
“I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
DeSantis responded to Gillum’s allegations during the fiery exchange, saying “it was not a racial conference, that is an absolute lie.”
Gillum lost to Republican DeSantis by a slim margin in 2018.
‘Police talk to the kids’
Members of the Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys visit underserved areas across the state to address any concerns such as inequities and other social issues among Black males.
“One of the things that the council does — that is really wonderful — we’ve traveled to some of the most difficult places in our state to meet with the people face-to-face and talk to them. We’ve gone to Pensacola, we’ve gone to Key West, Tampa, and Belle Glade in South Florida to talk to people about their problems,” Regnier said in the conversation with the Phoenix.
Over the years, the council has held panel discussions and forums with community leaders, discussing issues that directly affect Black males and help Black males excel in education and gain job skills.
Regnier explained that community forums have been held where “police talk to the kids” in order to help gain a better relationship between law enforcement and Black men, he said.
“Police officers were eager to join us and every year we’ve had two or three meetings where we brought officers with us and we put people in the room. Sometimes a room full of 400 kids and parents, and then we get the police to talk about when they stop a car, what they are looking for,” he said.
Royle King is a graduate of Florida A&M and the founder of a nonprofit called the Omega Lamplighters, a program that helps minority youth in Florida develop educational and social skills.
King said that his program works with a lot of young Black men across the state and has “provided them an extended family and a brotherhood.”
King, who is a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity believes that mentoring is a major solution to negative trends associated with Black males.
“Mentoring programs are huge in this fight because they allow Black male youth to see more than what they are shown,” King said in an interview with the Phoenix.
“We’ve equipped them with the tools necessary for them to be successful, taught them how to conduct themselves in professional and nonprofessional settings, taught them basic life and survival skills, the importance of respect and being a gentlemen,” he said.
Other activities his youth members have participated in include “taking them around the country to visit historic sites related to Black history,” touring “HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities], and providing them resume and career training,” he said.
Civil citations — an alternative to arrest
The council said in a 2019 annual report that civil citations are one of many solutions to tackle racial disparities including “implicit bias and over criminalization of our Black youth” in the legal system.
The council brought the idea for an alternative to arresting youth offenders to the Florida Legislature, which “resulted in civil citations being created, which really first came out of the council’s mouth,” Regnier said.
Regnier added that the push for the civil citation program came after hearing about “all these police officers in schools.” The program is administered by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
“When police officers are in schools, kids get criminal charges for doing what kids normally do,” he said.
“They still have to appear before a judge. But instead of going to prison and getting a criminal record and start down that wrong path … they get talked to, they get sent to treatment options, and the overwhelming experience is that this is an amazingly successful program.”
According to Florida’s juvenile justice department’s website, civil citations and similar pre-arrest diversion programs are important in “giving misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency.”
Bridging achievement gaps in education
According to the 2019 annual report, a council committee on “Education Development” pointed to poor test scores among Black high school students being linked to “high drop-out rates, failure in public schools, and failure to reach college.”
The report underscored the difficulty of bridging achievement gaps that exist between Black and white students. Overcoming achievement gaps and improving test scores among Black students, “could mean higher numbers of Black students” who graduate from high school and then college.
The committee recommended drafting legislation that offers incentives for Black males who choose Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs “that service industries where a dearth currently exists.”
King, of the Omega Lamplighters, said that the Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys “has a huge and unique opportunity to bring light to the challenges and struggles I see every day with Black males.”