To change the future, you must know the past

Audrey Peterman

By Audrey Peterman

On Saturday, July 18, I will have the privilege of being part of the 9th Annual Book Life 2020, a virtual presentation of local and national authors organized by the Broward County African American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC) and the Friends of the AARLCC. Preparing for that talk, I realized how much of my life experience that I write about in “From My Jamaican Gully to the World” is bound up in the Historically Black Community of Fort Lauderdale.

In this time of pandemic, it is the bonds of family, community, memory, and vision that will help see us through.

I was a young Jamaican woman who had fled New York after my first harsh winter.  I knew only one person in Fort Lauderdale, a friend of a friend named Grace, who introduced me to Westside Gazette publisher Levi Henry, Jr., and his family. Journalism was my profession and in a short time I was working at the Westside Gazette where the Henry family treated me as just another new member of the family, with complete acceptance. My relationship with the Westside Gazette gave me credibility and acceptance in the larger Black community.

Fast forward to 1992, when I married Frank Peterman who grew up in nearby Dania and was a longtime friend of the Henry family. Within a few years we had gone on our adventure driving around the entire United States and seeing the vast areas of natural beauty, devoid of any Black or Brown Americans. The passion we developed to show our peers all that their country had to offer might have been stillborn if not for the willingness of the Westside Gazette to publish the prolific stories we wrote about the national parks.

Fast forward again to 1997 when we learned of the plan to restore the Everglades, and its counterpart Eastward Ho! which would re-make the downtown corridor between the CSX and FEC railroad tracks in a 90-mile stretch from Palm Beach County to Monroe County. The Eastward Ho! documents said it would transform the corridor from single family neighborhoods and low income housing interspersing the business district into an upscale environment of mixed-use development with retail business and offices on the ground floor, and living space on top. The profile of residents in the year 2020 in the redeveloped downtown was white, hip, and affluent.

For eight years we strove to inform the community and elected leaders about the plans and ways that the development might be leveraged so that the residents would not be displaced. Unfortunately, those efforts fell short, and a drive along Sistrunk Boulevard to US 1 and surrounding environs reveal that the change has in fact happened. I often wonder what happened to all the people who used to live in those neighborhoods, and where they are today.

When we learned about climate change and that South Florida is in the bulls eye for rising seas, the Gazette helped us spread the message, as did the Claybornes who published the Broward Times and the Beattys who publish its successor, the South Florida Times.

I don’t know if ears are more open to hearing now that the coronavirus as exposed the chasms between how white and Black communities are treated, resulting in tremendous loss of life in Black communities due to racist practices in housing, economy, environment and every sector of our society.

A few weeks ago a reporter from the New York Times called to ask how I felt about the fact that a real estate organization was releasing a map that heavily emphasizes areas in the 33311 and 33313 zip codes that will flood during a 100-year flood event, which can happen any year. I asked her when the homeowners in those predominantly Black neighborhoods will learn about it, whether they will be required to buy flood insurance that they never needed before. What effect might it have on the value of their home and its vulnerability to being picked off by speculators looking to get ahead of the curve and provide upscale living space for those who will need to move off the beach?

It feels like Eastward Ho! all over again I am most grateful of all for the fact that I have this opportunity because of the AARLCC, an institution that Frank and I supported and helped raise funds to erect in the 1990s with our fellow artists in the African World Artists Collective including the late Charles Mills and his niece Edith, both of whom are now deceased; Joan Cartwright, George Gadson and Denise Collins among others.

It might be true that the more things change, the more they remain the same. But it is also true that to be forewarned is to be forewarned.  I am hoping that with the virus having laid bare the systemic inequality affecting Black lives, those who are interested in equality and social justice know this background, and this time things might be different.

About Carma Henry 23012 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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