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Simmons pleads for change, asks commissioners to reestablish trust with the community

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

In a 15-minute statement at the end of the Gainesville City Commission meeting Thursday night, Commissioner Gigi Simmons pleaded for change, but she didn’t list any specific policies that she would change.

“I just wanted to talk about the state of our country… we all know what’s going on. We witnessed some horrific, horrific, just-gut wrenching death of Mr. Floyd, but that’s not the first time that this has happened in this country. This has been going on for a very, very long time…

“How do we move forward? … What do we do as a commission and as a governing body to ensure that everybody is created equal and everybody have equal access?…

“We are not immune, the African-American communities in this city, of the violence, of the inequities, of the injustices, of the biases.”

She said she was speaking as a woman who has raised her nephew as her own son: “When they walk out my home, do I really know if my boys are coming back? And if so, in what condition?… We can no longer sit in our cocoons, in our silos, and wonder… is this going to happen to me, or is this going to happen to my neighbor? We need to really start having these conversations…

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“We talk about the disparities in our healthcare system. We talk about the disparities in our economic systems. We talk about the income equalities. We speak about the education systems that are unequal; they’re skewed. Our children are not reading.

“We have so many issues in our community, and it has not gone undocumented. We have the data from forever to justify the issues that we are having in our communities…

“I want us to really hear the cries of the people, minorities, the African-Americans, blacks, whatever you want to call us. I want you to hear our cries and our pleas…

“We have such a heavy burden in this community to carry that, we are at a tipping point. We are at that point, and… if this commission does not make the true attempt to turn this around and to make a difference in this community, I fear for Gainesville because… what has been created is a system that is biased, a system that is racist, a system that is–it doesn’t see us as people. It doesn’t see us at equals. It doesn’t take us seriously. It doesn’t embrace what we bring to the table. And we’re tired.”

She said the jails are full of black men and women. The service workers, “they look like me.”

“When I walk in City Hall and go to my office, I look at a wall… and what do I see on that wall every day? I see every mayor that’s been elected to this city on that wall. Maybe four look like me? Let that sink in…

“And I look at my community, I look at this city. Then I look at the leadership… And you don’t have to wonder why the state of this community is why it is. There has to be change…

“It bothers me, and it bothers people in my community that look like me, when we constantly, constantly, constantly tell people who are in a position to make change, ‘Hey, we’re hurting.’

“So I made a commitment when I ran for office… to represent my district… but I cannot do this alone… So I wanted to talk to my commissioners and just have an open raw conversation with you tonight And hopefully, hopefully we can work together to really, truly, truly change this community.”

She mentioned a racial toolkit she received from the National League of Cities: “It basically tells you about how… as a government, we can really approach and how to be effective in crisis and situations where it involves racism in this current climate. And I thought this was a great toolkit for us to look at and for us to really think about implementing some of these strategies…

“And I just want everybody to understand we’re still dealing with COVID-19 and like Commissioner Harvey Ward stated, it really is a disease that kills. It’s particularly harsh on African-Americans. So we as a community, we’re dealing with a lot… And I’m just asking my fellow commissioners, let’s work together, let’s turn this community around… We need to reestablish the trust in our communities. We need to stop talking.”

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