The Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys hosts teen workshop in Miami. Credit: The Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys.
A council created by the Florida Legislature to improve the lives of Black men and boys has been deterred by fundamental issues: Financial challenges and attendance concerns that stymie members from voting on important matters.
The Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys — created in 2006 — aims to pursue mentorship and programs to make an impact. It’s supposed to comprise 19 members, including a chair, but only has 17 members right now, according to its website.
Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $150,000 for the council in the 2020-21 state budget, according to budget records. And this fiscal year, a legislative effort to get $150,000 into the 2021-22 budget failed.
Meanwhile, the council hasn’t always had enough members to vote on its business and move forward with its mission, according to chairman Jerome Hill, who has been serving at Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
The council’s work and its struggles come as the atmosphere continues for Black males and boys, following the death of George Floyd, police brutality against people of color and anti-riot laws that have been challenged in court.
The group – housed in the Florida Attorney General’s office – conducts research on negative conditions affecting Black males and presents solutions aimed at reducing high school dropout and incarceration rates, as well as violent crimes, according to its website.
Unprecedented requests for more funding
The council also is responsible for proposing measures “to alleviate and correct the underlying causes of the conditions,” based on research of Black males. Those measures may include “changes to the law or systemic changes that can be implemented without legislative action.”
The programs would typically need money to proceed.
Chairman Hill said that while the council didn’t receive a boost in funding for 2021-22, it gets continuing funds of $78,419 every fiscal year.
Hill hopes to receive more money to create a new position that would strengthen the operations of the group. He is pursuing another legislative request for $150,000 during the upcoming 2022 legislative session.
“What that would entail is a research coordinator to help consolidate many of the programs or services that will help improve the lives of men and boys,” Hill said.
Hill also is requesting a major increase from the $78,000 to $500,000 in continuing funds for the organization.
“I have asked to switch that to half a million. I know that’s unprecedented but we are in the midst of a time that so much is happening and we need to go ahead and put these research programs together so we can go ahead and present them to our legislative bodies,” Hill said.
“I don’t know of a time that that has been asked for but it’s time we push our budget up to a position where we can get additional help, given our responsibilities are being taxed more than ever before.”
The council will soon launch a campaign targeted to minority populations in Florida including African Americans to increase awareness and trust of COVID-19 vaccines, Hill told the Phoenix. Other endeavors for the council include creating mentorship programs to support young Black men.
“We just approved and voted on a budget of $7,600 to begin a public service announcement campaign…there is still a lot of misinformation out there and a real medical hesitancy,” Hill said.
“We need to go ahead and put on a message that is coming not only from the heart but people who look like us.”
The Phoenix reached out to Moody’s communications staffers, but they have not responded to a request for comment regarding the funding for the organization.
Addressing attendance issues
As the new leader of the council, Hill told the Florida Phoenix in a phone conversation that addressing attendance problems exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic is a top priority. “We are asking to do more with less…but business needs to still be conducted,” Hill said.
At a recent virtual meeting through Zoom, council members and Hill discussed solutions to address attendance issues including the removal of a regulation related to attendance for members.
Council member Paul Wilson, who is a senior associate at PCG Education Consulting, argued during the August 26 meeting that “the lack of quorum” has prevented the group from “doing things as simply as voting on meeting minutes.”
That said, the council is in the process of changing its bylaws by removing a quorum, a minimum number of members present to conduct business. According to state law, “eleven of the members of the council constitute a quorum.”
The council wants to change that to a majority of members in attendance in order to conduct business related to the council, Hill said.
“That doesn’t mean that when we switch from a quorum to a majority the quality is any less in terms of our commitment to whatever topic we have that’s there that needs to be voted on,” Hill said. “It just means that we need to keep on doing the people’s work.”
State Rep. James Bush III, a Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade County, said during the August 26 meeting that “if we can change that language to the majority of members present, and allow us to move forward with the pertinent business at hand, I think that it would be in the best interest of this council.”
“All of us are extremely busy but we have a mission,” he said.
However, that process won’t begin until the 2022 legislative session, when members will engage state lawmakers with proposed changes, Hill said.
“What we are in the process of doing right now is working with exclusively the bylaws…we’ll have to wait until session comes along in laying out the infrastructure of how we want that worded for our legislative branch to work on,” Hill said.
According to state law, members of the council do not receive any compensation, but they get reimbursed for travel expenses. Hill said “it’s very difficult for a lot of our members” to attend every meeting due to serving in various positions for the state.
“They have other responsibilities to the citizens of Florida,” he said. “So when you pull out [state] department heads, secretaries and bureau chiefs, they’re getting pulled in every different direction,” Hill said, adding that if the council doesn’t meet the quorum, “then we would have to take up the matter in the next meeting.”
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