"When I can do good for myself, I can always help others. I'm a positive role model. A younger child will see me and realize he can own a business, or that he can do something with his life."
--Dennis Curry, Owner, Colors of Love child-care center
Sandra Hull Richardson grew up on a middle class street, near the Durkee-ville neighborhood, off Myrtle Avenue.
It was a black neighborhood. The women, she said, were teachers and nurses. Many of the men worked for the post office.
"A lot of principals lived on our street," Richardson said. "It was a good living. People bought homes and sent their kids to college. I thought everyone was middle class back then.
"But," she said, "it may not be something that all of Jacksonville recognized."
If there was a time when the black middle class was invisible to many, that time has gone. During the 1990s, more blacks were moving to the South from elsewhere in the United States than out of the South, stopping a decades-long out migration, according to a University of Michigan study of Census Bureau data. Black professionals, both homegrown and from other parts of the country, are no rarity in Jacksonville.
Consider the simple fact that Richardson is the new president of the Junior League of Jacksonville, the first African-American to hold that position.
Or that Vickie Seymour sells $200,000-and-up homes to African-American families on the Northside.
Or listen to Willie Brown, who grew up in LaVilla, not an area that he'd call middle class. Now he's living in a subdivision off Kernan Road and working with American Express Financial Advisers.
"Anybody who's observing obviously sees there's more African-Americans that appear to have resources, certainly more resources than 20 years ago, than their parents did. And that's always the goal."
Newsweek certainly brought the issue up in June with a cover story heralding "The Good News About Black America." The magazine pointed out, among other things, that black income, employment and home ownership was up. "It's the best time ever to be black in America," it said.
A Newsweek poll saw more blacks (71 percent) than whites (59 percent) expecting their family income to rise in the next 10 years. It reported on another poll that found, for the first time, more blacks than whites said their financial situation had improved in the past year.
The magazine did point out, however, that the success is not felt by all African-Americans. And local black professionals talk of having to prove themselves every day in a way that whites don't. Still, they said, things are better.
Many reasons are given for the changing status, but basically it's this: More opportunity, more education.
Dennis Curry sees that improvement. He's from Detroit, but he's been in Jacksonville since 1980 and he's done well here. He and his wife, Joyce, own four Colors of Love child-care centers on the Northside and downtown.
When parents enroll their children at his centers, they have to fill out forms that include their income. And in the last five years, Curry said, he's seen more black professionals and more family income.
He thinks the growth is both from black professionals moving to town and residents simply moving up the financial ladder. First, he said, there's the economy:
"Jobs are plenty," Curry said. "The job market has opened across the board. All jobs, all perspectives. Anyone who says they can't find a job are fooling themselves. There are jobs to be had."
"People in Jacksonville are showing better educations," Curry said. "When I came here, I saw a lot of trouble reading, a lack of math skills. But now there are so many avenues for free education."
Beyond that, he said, he's seen more motivation in today's 25- to 35-year-olds than he did in his own generation. …