Reggie Dogan

Reggie Dogan Project Manager

Community

Honoring a Pensacola legend

The Eastside Neighborhood Association wants to keep the life and legacy of one of its greatest sons alive. The association members, along with a newly created museum board, envision transforming Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.’s boyhood home into a museum. The house on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is now a memorial plaza. If the eastside residents have their way, the home of the nation’s first black general will become a monument in memory of James’ contribution to his community and country.  “His legacy is so important to this city,” said Jeannie Rhoden, association president. “We needs things and people like this to inspire our children to do great things.” Pensacola City Council recently approved an architectural design and cost feasibility study up to $25,000 to look at developing the museum and linking it with the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. Summer Flight Academy. The flight academy is a program designed to expose young people to science and aviation in a summer program that includes academics and flight training. While the Chappie James Museum Board is in its infancy stages, it plans to establish a foundation with six of the eight members having museum board background. As the two groups iron out specifics, they both agree on restoring the white five-room, “shotgun” style wooden house on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into a repository of James’ memorabilia and historical artifacts of his life in Pensacola and the military. The groups also envision including an office, classrooms and gift shop. James was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force who in 1975 became the first African American to reach the rank of four-star general. Born in Pensacola, James attended Tuskegee Institute and was one of the famed “Tuskegee Airmen.” Read full story

Commentary

Breaking school-to-prison pipeline

A student is more likely to be arrested and possibly face felony charges for fighting in Florida than any other state in the nation. The Sunshine State leads the nation in school-based arrests, and the school-to-prison pipeline is funneling students out of the classroom into the criminal justice system at alarming rates, says the American Civil Liberties Union. Keyontay Humphries, regional organizer for the ACLU in Pensacola,  says Escambia County incarcerates more children per capita than any other county in the state. “Schools have a role to play to fix this growing problem,” Humphries says. “In the schools, there is a failure to provide intervention, remediation and support for these children.” Humphries is working to raise awareness of the issue. She recently spoke at Bethel AME Church in an event sponsored by Pensacola Community Partners (Rebuilding the Village). In 2011-12, Escambia County sent 865 children to detention centers and 219 young people to juvenile prisons, Humphries says. During that same time, Florida recorded the highest number of school-based arrests in the country. About 12,000 students were arrested 13,870 times in Florida public schools, according to a report in the Orlando Sentinel. Most of the arrests, 67 percent, were for infractions like fist fights, dress-code violations and talking back – misbehavior that, in Florida and other places, increasingly results in misdemeanor criminal charges. Humphries says she’s currently working on a case that involves a second-grader in Escambia County who was arrested for excessive crying. Even though the Sheriff’s Office dropped charges, the child’s family is pursuing civil charges, Humphries says.  “Through bias and negative perceptions, they now have put in place policies and laws that set children up to fail,” she says. “These laws are strong on punishment that pushes children out of the classroom into the prison system.” Too many of these children, according to data, are black or Hispanic. Statistics show that students of color are more likely than their counterparts to get caught in this destructive pipeline of punishment. Across the U.S., the race gap in student punishments is wide, according to the Department of Education civil rights data from 2011 to 2012. Black students without disabilities are suspended or expelled three times as often as white students without disabilities. Students with disabilities, often emotional or behavioral disorders, are also overrepresented in suspensions, the data show. As a result, they drift from graduation by harsh punishment – suspensions, expulsions and even arrests – that leave them disenfranchised and more likely to quit school and become trapped in the criminal justice system. Donna Curry, a retired human resource manager for Exxon Mobile attended the event. Curry says she said is concerned about statistics that put Escambia County high on the list for arresting children. Schools, she says, used to be a safe haven for children, but not any more. “If schools are not a safe place, and kids can’t get an education, they end up in prison, can’t get a job or take care of their families,” she says. “We have to do a better job than just kicking them out.” Curry says while the problems are many, the “blame game” is not the answer. “Each of us must come together to do our part,” Curry says. “We have a lot of work to do with the school system, the Sheriff’s Office and the parents.” Humphries says community leaders too often point to poverty as the root cause of the problems in schools and the community.  “To blame poverty alone is not justification for the problems,” Humphries says. “It is disgraceful for the stakeholders to say it’s everybody’s fault but their own.” Steps to fix the growing problem of children getting entangled in the criminal justice system, Humphries says. Include community involvement, parental engagement and teachers and principals taking an active interest in a child’s social development, not just his or her academic achievements. Other ways to help, Humphries believes, include more accountability, voter participation, sensitivity training on gender and race for teachers and using data to highlight patterns and behaviors. It will take some policy changes and public education to cut the flow of the pipeline, Humphries says.  “Criminal justice is for punishment,” she says. “Juvenile justice is about rehabilitation.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Town hall fact check: Education

Malcolm Thomas, superintendent of Escambia schools, talked a lot about education Tuesday at the District 3 Town Hall Meeting. When a question was raised about what young people can do to fix their lives after getting in trouble or dropping out of school, Thomas stressed the importance of high school graduation. He told a story about a 16-year-old student who dropped out so he could get more hours on his job. Thomas pointed out that parents can play a role in preventing their children from dropping out because a students needs parental permission to quit school. “In the state of Florida you cannot drop out of school if you’re under the age of 18 unless a parent or guardian signs the form,” Thomas said. FACT CHECK: True, according Florida Statute 1003.21(1)(c)  “When a student reaches 16 years of age he/she is no longer required to attend school if he/she files the required formal declaration of intent to terminate school enrollment with the school district and the declaration is signed by a parent. The declaration must acknowledge that leaving school will likely reduce the student’s earning potential. The school district is required to notify the child’s parent or legal guardian that the student has filed a declaration of intent to leave school.” Read full story

Community

Local students make big difference

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi and Today Show co-anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie were the shining stars at the Make A Difference Awards Luncheon this month in Washington, D.C. But a tiny Escambia County school shared the spotlight with the big stars at the annual event honoring volunteerism. Escambia Charter School proved that size really doesn’t matter. Students at the smallest public high school in the county made a big difference by collecting and distributing hundreds of pounds of canned goods and snacks to the needy. Their charitable work was among 14 grassroots volunteer efforts across the U.S. recognized during the awards ceremony. She’Kerion Thompkins, along with the school’s principal, Jerome Chisolm, traveled to Washington to accept the award on April 10. For Thompson, it was surreal to take his first flight and make his first visit to the nation’s capital for doing something worthwhile. “I have never done anything like this before,” said Thompkins, 17, a junior in his second year at the school. “I didn’t know helping people could be so rewarding.” The award goes farther than personal satisfaction. The school also received $10,000, which the students gave to a local women’s prison ministry. In addition to the 14 award winners, Lauer and Guthrie received awards for their advocacy of the show’s Shine a Light campaign, promoting volunteerism across the country. Bon Jovi – the Grammy-award winning musician, philanthropist and founder of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation – also was recognized for his commitment to giving back the community. NBC correspondent Jenna Bush Hager served as master of ceremonies for the event. Make A Difference Day is the nation’s largest day of service, bringing together millions of Americans to volunteer in their local neighborhoods and communities. It was started in 1992 by Gannett Co. Inc.’s USA WEEKEND Magazine, along with partners, Newman’s Own Inc. and Points of Light. Escambia Charter School was selected from thousands of nationwide volunteer initiatives that took place during the 2013 Make A Difference Day. The school, just off U.S. 29 in Cantonment, serves about 120 mostly at-risk students who were removed from public schools because of bad behavior or failing grades. It was the only organization in the entire state to receive a Make A Difference Award last year. The school’s volunteer project began in September when students collected or contributed 300 pounds of canned good and snacks for a food pantry and the USO, as well as 60 boxes of clothes for three shelters. On Make A Difference Day on Oct. 26, 20 students, with 15 parents and teachers, organized and delivered donations – then split into teams to do yard work for four elderly or disabled homeowners. Their volunteer efforts have led to even more charitable work. Last week, some students prepared food for 100 homeless people. They are planning more projects throughout the year. Chisolm, the school’s principal, hopes the students learn valuable lessons from helping others. “Providing helping hands will teach them to concentrate on the power within them instead of focuses on the problems surrounding them,” he said. “We are looking at adopting a slogan that says: ‘Enter to learn; depart to serve.’ ” As bright as the stars shined at the awards ceremony, Escambia Charter students showed that anyone, not just the rich or famous, truly can make a difference. “This has inspired me to take more of a leadership role and try to influence others to do the same,” Thompkins said. “Doing something for other people makes me feel good inside.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Education

Better living through chemistry

Attending graduate school never occurred to Janae Baptiste until she joined the University of West Florida’s Chemistry Scholars Program. Now Baptiste is pursuing a doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of Maryland. “Interacting with and talking to faculty motivated me to pursue higher education,” said Baptiste, who received a biochemistry degree in 2013. “They believed in me and that made me believe in myself.” UWF’s Chemistry Scholars Program’s mission is to recruit and retain high-achieving chemistry students and to increase the number of students pursuing doctoral or dual medicine/doctoral degrees, both with an emphasis on under-represented, or minority, students. Baptiste is among a group of 11 students who were accepted in the program’s inaugural class. Since the program’s inception in 2011, the number of under-represented chemistry students pursuing professional or medical degrees has increased from 2 percent from 2008 through 2012 to 31 percent in the 2013-2014 academic year. UWF assistant chemistry professor Karen Sinclair Molek, the program’s director, credits the success of the program to motivated students and faculty. Spending more time with students gave professors more opportunities to talk freely with students about social, economic, ethnic and financial issues affecting their lives, she said. Going beyond the role of mentoring, they began discussing ways the students could break down barriers that could hinder them from seeking a post-graduate education, Molek said. “I can give you stats all day, but what matters most is that the faculty got on the ground with students to improve retention, talk about the quality of their education and help them decide where they’re going,” Molek said. “That has helped not just minority, but majority students as well.” UWF’s Chem Scholar Program is modeled after the Meyerhoff Scholars Program set up by Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, and the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program directed by Michael Summers, a UWF chemistry graduate. Students in the program meet monthly to hear guest speakers discuss summer research programs and post-graduate opportunities, receive career advice, participate in peer-to-peer mentoring and receive professional development and mentoring from faculty in the chemistry department. The program’s goals include: — Increasing the retention of students, especially under-represented chemistry students. —  Increasing the percentage of students pursuing post-graduate education. —  Providing scholarships, priority registration and graduation honors. Molek said about 55 percent of UWF chemistry students go onto graduate or professional programs. UWF plans to expand the program to other STEM areas. It already has submitted a $2.1 million proposal to the National Institute of Health for a biology and physics scholar program. Baptiste, a graduate of Escambia High School, postponed a job search to continue her education, thanks to the Chem Scholars Program. “I had planned to look for a job in Pensacola in a related field,” she said. “Now, I’m really looking forward to the challenges of working through difficult projects to get the results of achieving a Ph.D.” This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Community

Preparing for GRACE of Pensacola

Summertime is a good time for some local residents who will be the beneficiaries of free home improvements. More than 300 teens and adults from churches around the country are volunteering their time in June to spruce up about 40 homes for the elderly, handicapped and lower-income residents in Pensacola. Repairs and improvements will include, among other things, exterior painting, weatherization, porch and wheelchair ramp construction. The volunteer effort is organized by Group Cares, formerly known as Group Workcamps Foundation, an interdenominational Christian nonprofit group based in Loveland, Colo. In the upcoming summer, an estimated 25,000 youth and adults will participate in 48 work camps in communities across the U.S. and Canada. In Pensacola alone, their efforts will represent about 10,000 hours of volunteer labor with an estimated economic impact to the community of more than $250,000. The work camp is sponsored by GRACE of Pensacola, a group of local churches and nonprofit agencies that have joined for the Group Cares Project and is lead by Christ Church in Pensacola. The mission of GRACE is to serve Pensacola residents by providing home repair to citizens who can’t provide for themselves. Volunteers still are needed to assist in pressure washing the selected home sites during the week before the youth groups arrive. To participate or for more information, call Warren Jerrems at (850) 586-1030. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Community

Saving the Jordan Home

A group of concerned citizens wants to turn a house back into a home. The Ella Jordan Home, once a gathering place for a host of community activities in the early 1900s near the Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood, has fallen to disrepair as a result of neglect and hurricane damage. The plan is to preserve the legacy and life of Ella Jordan by restoring the house to its elegance and importance in the historic neighborhood. A “Campaign to Save the Historical Ella Jordan Home” will be hosted at 5 p.m. Saturday at Booker T. Washington High School’s Theodore Auditorium, 6000 College Parkway. Keynote speaker is Faya Ora Rose Toure, a Harvard-educated civil rights activist and litigation attorney in Selma, Ala. Toure, formerly named Rose Sanders, was the first African-American female judge in Alabama. She was part of the winning team in a civil rights case that led to a billion dollars in damages awarded to black farmers by the U.S Department of Agriculture, one of the largest civil rights cases in history. Also a songwriter, playwright and education activist, Toure is an ideal person to raise awareness and bring attention to the efforts to save the Ella Jordan Home. Jordan, the first president of Pensacola Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, owned the house until she died in 1948. Federation members bought the house, on the corner of LaRua and C streets, in 1959 and named it after Jordan. It became a gathering spot for social and educational activities for the African-American community in the what’s commonly called today the Westside Garden District. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan nearly destroyed the dilapidated remains of the historic house. Once a neighborhood cornerstone, the house is barely standing and in desperate need of repair and restoration. Windows and doors are boarded. The heavily damaged roof is covered with a blue tarp. Members of the community, along with Mother Wit Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating young people and preserving African-American history, have joined together to save revitalize the landmark. Georgia Blackmon, founding member of Mother Wit Institute, said it would be a shame to lose this significant piece of Pensacola history. Blackmon said activities at the Jordan Home focused on important issues such as health and wellness, economics, education and tutoring. “It’s worth saving because of what she did in the 1900s through providing and teaching life skills,” Blackmon said. “We need to keep her legacy alive for the next generation and even the unborn.” For more info, call 438-4882. This article originally appeared on Progress+Promise. Read full story

Commentary

Lessons from Greenville

Pensacola’s downtown renewal is showing momentum. Upscale eateries, bars and shops are moving in once-vacant buildings. Foot traffic is up and parking spaces are filled. Read full story