RACE RELATIONS; A Positive Focus

Article excerpt

Years ago, the Times-Union brought together community leaders to talk about the challenges facing the city.

Employment, education, housing and transportation were among the subjects. Then it became clear that one thread connected all of the city's major issues -- race.

A similar theme has emerged during the 30 years of reports from Jacksonville Community Council Inc. Affordable housing, adult literacy, teen parents, adult literacy and services for ex-offenders have strong racial components. In its 2002 study on improving race relations, JCCI also addressed this continuing issue of race relations.

Racial issues tend to be addressed only after crises. Thus, the need to take the city's racial temperature in hopes that measurements can lead to improvements.

Now JCCI has released its first race relations progress report. The idea is modeled on its annual Quality of Life survey, which has become such a key part of Jacksonville's cultural life and has been copied nationally.

African-Americans represent a major portion of Duval County -- 28 percent of the population in the 2000 census and 42.6 percent of the public school students. Blacks also have played a major role in Jacksonville's history.

The major concern is that the perception gap between whites and blacks in Jacksonville has widened to its largest point since 1985. While 70 percent of blacks see racism as a problem, only 43 percent of whites do. For instance, 77 percent of blacks say they are treated unfairly while shopping, while only 24 percent of whites think blacks are treated unfairly while shopping.

In nearly every category, there is evidence of progress, yet need for improvement.

For instance, it's good news that black voter registration surged in 2004. In the 2004 elections, only 3 percent of whites and 4 percent of blacks surveyed reported encountering difficulty in voting. …