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It’s more than a market, it’s a melanin movement

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

The “Out East” neighborhood in Jacksonville (JAX) is primarily African American and refers to a part of town that is east of all the ports. The name was given when most of JAX as we know it was still unincorporated.

It is arguably one of the biggest cities in the United States land-wise and has one of the highest populations of African Americans in the state of Florida. And like most other cities in the South, these residents are the descendants of enslaved persons, who have contributed to America’s rich history.

JAX is the birthplace of brothers James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, writers of the Black national anthem, Eartha M. White, philanthropist, businesswoman (etcetera, etcetera), NFL Hall of Famer and distinguished FAMU alum, Bob Hayes, A. Phillip Randolph, civil rights activist and the location of Edward Waters University, the first historically Black college (HBCU) in the state of Florida.

It is important for me to start this piece off with this background information because it is no surprise that the people who we met in JAX are also on their way to becoming living legends. There is greatness in the Out East community and Rudy Jamison, EdD, and Mrs. Dawn Curling, two JAX natives, are on a mission to tap into the deep rooted awesomeness that is the collective consensus of African Americans.

You probably know by now that I am a proud HBCU graduate of the illustrious Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), something that Dr. Rudy and I have in common. FAMU is about two and a half hours away from JAX and I used to make the drive often as JAX had a larger airport than Tallahassee. When I lived in Florida I didn’t appreciate it. Fast forward to today, I dislike how politics have polarized the way most Americans, and the world, think of the state.

At one point a relative was graduating from high school and I suggested they apply to FAMU. Their parents said, “We like FAMU, but we don’t like Florida.”

I get it, and so does Rudy and Dawn. But as long as they have faith the size of a mustard seed, they are not afraid to take on Goliath. That might seem like several Christian metaphors in one sentence, it is intentional because the Black church was instrumental in helping African Americans mobilize and organize and this is something that is currently happening Out East.

Dr. Rudy is the Director of the University of North Florida Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations. He’s passionate about bridging the racial equity gap and educating anyone who will listen. While he has concerns on whether or not the institute will still exist given the recent anti-DEI legislation passed in Florida, he is still determined to make a difference.

“It is important for us to have these uncomfortable conversations. If we can't face it we can’t fix it,” Dr. Rudy said. “Unfortunately there is a lot of political theater out there but I do not believe that is really reflective of who we are. A democrat was just elected as mayor in JAX because we showed up. It can be done.”

Dr. Rudy was interested in learning more about Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project which helped with voter turnout in Georgia. He is now armed with information about State Legislative Tables and voter advocacy programs and he is working with Dawn, founder of the Melanin Market, to get out the vote and make real change in Florida.

Their partnership might seem unlikely at first glance, but over the past couple of years, Dawn has been successful in hosting two of the biggest Black History Month and Juneteenth celebrations in the country, drawing in over 10,000 people to embrace Black culture and support Black businesses. And while this Juneteenth the event will go as planned, there will be a new educational component and this is where the dynamic duo will be in full force.

“It is important for us to formalize and organize. If we have thousands of people at our event, that is a perfect time to share information needed to see a difference in our communities,” said Dawn.

While the federal government officially recognized Juneteenth as a holiday in 2021, it is a date that the African American community has commemorated for much longer. Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation in 1863, it wasn't until the Union Troops arrived in Galveston Texas on June 19, 1865 that all enslaved persons were finally liberated.

If you were an enslaved person, you didn’t have the right to vote because you weren’t even considered a full human being. It might seem like such nonsense and ridiculousness to even read that, however, people are finding more nonsensical, legal ways to suppress the votes and voices of African Americans, which is why programs like the Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations and organizations like the Melanin Market are so important.

If you are in Jacksonville, be sure to look up the Melanin Market. With year-round celebrations for you to support, there's something for everybody. Go for the celebration, but stay for the education, this is how you create change from the inside out.

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