By Dixie Ann Black
“If you can’t read by the third grade there is a 72 percent chance you will not graduate and a strong chance you will end up in prison.”
Michael A. Coleman shared these disturbing statistics. He is the president of Roots and Wings, a non-profit organization that teaches Black and Brown children how to read. He is also the 1st. Vice President of the Palm Beach County Democratic Black Caucus. He shares these statistics because he sees education as crucial in bridging the gap for people of color.
Coleman is also a military veteran and former law enforcement officer of roughly two decades with the city of Delray Beach. In each capacity in which he has worked, he has found that a lack of education has contributed to societal breakdown, misunderstanding, economic loss and voter apathy.
He points out that this large gap between voters’ understanding of the issues and strategies in our communities is juxtaposed against a need to show up at the polls and make a decisive mark for the candidates that will best address these needs. Coleman is bridging the gap through education. It is a formidable task, but he is not alone.
Coleman explains that the current Chapter of the Palm Beach Caucus is fairly young, but the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida has been active in the county for decades (since 1983). With over 280,000 people of color in the county, the Caucus is making progress in educating folks on the issues. But in areas where a lack of education pits low-income constituents against their own political best interests, he acknowledges that there is still a long way to go.
There is no doubt that Florida has an opportunity to make history with three Black women standing out on the ticket. U.S. Representative Val Demings is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate in what is said to be a close race against her opponent. Commissioner of Agriculture Naomi Esther Blemur and State Attorney General Aramis Ayala are strong contenders in their own races. These three women of color highlight the need for Democrats to show up at the polls in droves.
Here is where the strength of the Florida Democratic Caucus throughout the state is invaluable. But is it equipped and ready to deliver on November 8, 2022?
Coleman is elbows deep in bringing forth a positive answer. He sees the Democratic Caucus’ role as one of getting people involved and aware of resources, as well as the power of their vote.
“We have been working heavily with Representative Val Demings with fundraising and other events. Our big push is our local election run offs, school board, the senate race and supporting Charlie Crist.”
He sees the Caucus as building strength and strategy as the races heat up.
“Broward County has a very solid ground game when it comes to this. The Palm Beach Caucus has only been around about a year. We have met with the Broward Caucus to get educated on how things are done and meet state representatives, etc. We have also gained some energy as groups have come together for recent hurricane assistance.”
Coleman is big on diversity. His search has found that the Caucus is supplemented by the community itself. From city managers, police, community activists and educators to Republicans, he builds relationships to help form a strategic base for his party. “You don’t learn much from folks who think like you,” Coleman explained.
In the fight against voter apathy Coleman addresses the question of the effectiveness of the Democratic Party in these times.
He sees great value in the Democratic Party,
“Lawmakers create laws with great intentions to help everyone but many people like seniors and those below state and federal income guidelines are hurting. It takes diverse thinking to understand how to address these problems. This is a key area where Democrats are effective. Large groups of folks are hurting, and Democratic leaders understand the concept of diversity. Most Democrats understand that folks at a certain level do not have a voice.”
Coleman is walking his talk. In addition to free tutoring provided to Black and Brown children in eighteen schools, teachers benefit from his non-profit. His talk of community includes organizations like THRIVE, UNIFY and others in the community. He highlights the strong strategies of the Haitian and Democratic Jewish communities as well as the leadership of Mindy Koch and Tennille DeCoste. He has been challenged in his role of helping the community by those who desire the status quo. But he has not given up. He believes education and a strategy that involves unity is the winning combination for life, and the upcoming election is a great place to start.