State Sen. Bobby Powell’s remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday. Credit: Florida Channel.
During this week’s special legislative session on congressional redistricting and other bills, State Sen. Bobby Powell’s poignant remarks in the Florida Senate on Wednesday showed the trajectory of his feelings as a Black man and a Black lawmaker. Powell, a Democrat, represents parts of Palm Beach County. He’s been in leadership roles, including Democratic Leader Pro Tempore and the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.
Here are Powell’s comments, generally in sections and excerpts:
“Thank you Mr. President.
The question I have is, Sen. (Jason) Pizzo said it earlier. Approximately nine attorneys in this body. Forty people, 39 when we ended session.
How did we end up with compromised maps with all of these attorneys? And I battled that over and over again.
I woke up this morning, woke up this morning, like, the same thought that I had several weeks ago.
There’s a lion and a gazelle that wake up every morning running.
One is running to get food. One is running not to be food.
And I wake up, knowing in this process, that we have to continue to fight.
And sometimes you get tired, right?
Tired of the book bans, tired of the “Don’t Say Gay,” tired of the maps being changed, tired of the CRT (Critical Race Theory)… tired of wondering when I wake up in the morning, am I Black today, am I colored, am I a Negro?
What is my battle today?”
Powell then goes over the bleak history — that a very limited number of Black lawmakers have made it to Congress. He cited the first Florida Congressman, Josiah T. Walls (in the 1870s). But prior to 1992, zero Black people were in Congress. Only about 10 Black lawmakers have been elected to serve in Congress, including Al Lawson, of North Florida and Val Demings, of Orlando.
“We’re going to have 28 congressional seats, and maybe, two or three, after we completely pass this map, will represent Black people.
And I tell my daughter every day that you can be anything you want to be, right, because that’s what my mother told me.
But I wake up every day knowing that I’m going to have to fight…
I have to remind myself, every day. I listen to all kinds of music — gospel, rap, country. I have to remind myself that (rapper) Bone Crusher said it best: I ain’t never scared.
Which means, sometimes we’re going to have to stand in the way. And we’re gonna get knocked on our backs…
This process becomes more and more difficult.
When I got here, boy, there were some fighters up in here…Today is a little bit different.
Lots of us have lost our fight.
A couple people stand up and fight for what they believe in. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Democratic, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Republican.
In the world that I live in, this map that we’re proposing, tells people, we don’t want to say the words “Black Lives Matter.”
But you show me this, and subconsciously…you understand what the map says. Is it because 40 members of this body who are professionals passed maps and now we say they’re comprised?…
I wake up every morning knowing that I have to fight….and I know I came from West Palm Beach, reluctantly, reluctantly, because I’d rather be home with my wife and daughter.”
Powell then talks about love — about the love of his father and his late mother. When she died in 2001, she couldn’t fight for him any longer.
“So I’m here and I’m ready and I know I gotta fight….
Maya Angelou did say that ….you may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lives. Banning me out of books.
You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise. We will continue. We’ll battle. We’re here today.
These will be our words.
But we will continue to rise.
We will rise above the pit of mediocrity….
We will rise above any feelings that we may think are racist or negative.
We’ll rise above the time when we were colored, to when we were Black.
We will rise in a chamber regardless of the banning of books. We will rise.
We’ll continue to rise. And we will rise.”
Powell ends the speech, urging senators to vote no on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map. But it was a party-line vote, with the Senate chamber divided, 24-15. The House is expected to vote yes for the plan on Thursday. DeSantis’ plan for drawing new congressional districts give 20 of Florida’s 28 seats to Republicans and scrap two Black “performing” seats.
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