Over the course of my fall semester I had the opportunity to attend and participate in all sorts of events and activities that have shaped my college experience so far. You can find summaries of these events below, as well as some images.
The Mayor’s Bookclub: Between The World and Me
In February 2012, a young man was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida. This tragedy would go on to bring to the forefront of society a humongous issue that had gone unaddressed for too long. The young man who died that day was named Trayvon Martin, a name that would go on to inspire perhaps the largest organized movement in American society today: Black Lives Matter. It wasn’t till 2014, the year that Michael Brown and Eric Garner died at the hands of law enforcement, that Black Lives Matter became a household name. The issue at the heart of the movement goes beyond police brutality or racial profiling. The real issue is systematic and residual racism against people of color. A racism that is most prominent in issues regarding the judicial system as well as law enforcement. For African Americans, the issues that now receive national attention have been in the spotlight of the Black community for years. In 2015 Ta-Nehisi Coates released a book titled Between the World and Me, a book that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. Drawing off inspiration from the works of James Baldwin, the book is Coates letter to his son about the experience of the Black American man. Coates does not hold back, he paints a very grim picture, a picture that paints white supremacy and racism as inerasable. Coates highly intellectual work sparked discussions around the nation, as well as here in Gainesville, Florida. These conversations prompted Gainesville Mayor, Lauren Poe, to host an event in which 3 expert panelist discussed the book and answered questions from the public.
I attended the mayor’s book club in September at the Gainesville public library in September. Mayor Lauren Poe led the discussion with a panel comprised of Hazel Levy and Clarence Gravlee, both professors at the University of Florida, as well as James Lawrence, director of the city of Gainesville initiative, Gainesville for All. The audience was a diverse one, full of people of different skin colors and races. As the dialogue between Mayor Poe and the panelist began, they would begin to look through and unpack the meaning of different important passages in the book. The panelist would talk about different interpretations and things such as the context of what Coates writes about, or implications of the issues Coates discusses. It was an eye opening experience to be able to hear and understand issues and topics about race I hadn’t before. The biggest themes throughout the night were white racism and supremacy as well as racial inequality. As I began to contemplate how what was being said related to the idea of the good life, it became difficult. This was not because racial inequality is unimportant, equality is central to the idea of the good life, this was because the dialogue at the mayor’s book club was a grim one. Much like Coates book, the conversation failed to bring much optimism to the situation. Whether that is a realistic assessment of race relations in America is something that I don’t and cant know. But I like to believe, and think its important to believe that change is possible. In no way do I believe that this sort of large scale cultural, societal, and economic change is easy or quick, but it’s something worth fighting for. As I left the event contemplating the things that were said, one statement stood out to me the most. It came from Hazel Levy; she said, “When you are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” The fight for equality will not be an easy or painless one
Candidate Forum: State Representative and State Senate Races
This year, 2016, is an election year. The election has now come and passed, but the results of a very heated campaign race have left the political climate, as many have referred to it, very tense and divided. I had the chance to attend a political debate at Santa Fe this semester. However the politicians who were at this debate, as there campaign trails were coming to a close in October weren’t Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump. It was Chuck Clemons and Marihelen Wheeler running for State House of Representatives as well as Rod Smith and Keith Perry running for State Senate. It was an eye opening and informative evening, and it also allowed me to become more familiar with the issues that are driving local and state government.
I arrived at the debate not knowing what to expect. The night was a double header with Marihelen Wheeler and Chuck Clemons taking the floor first, and after them, it would be Mr. Smith’s and Mr., Perry’s turn. Once the debate commenced, the very first thing that both Clemons and Wheeler addressed was the national election. They both gave their statements on the attitudes of the candidates and pledged to work for a more unified government. As they both went on debating on the big local issues: education, agriculture, aquaculture, and voting laws, I was surprised to see how much they agreed. Seeing them talk eloquently in support of each other, rally behind issues together, and show understanding when they disagreed was a big departure from what I had seen on TV in regards to the Presidential election. And although Clemons and Wheeler both agreed on most the issues, they prioritized different aspects. For example when it came to education, Clemons talked about reducing testing and the teach to test dynamic as well as wanting to create an environment to keep our college graduates in Florida and build industry and economy with them. Wheeler focused on reducing testing and funding for testing as well, but focused more on the fact the students in Florida are not being prepared for college. This sort of dialogue was essentially the structure for the rest of the conversation. The debate ended with closing statements from both candidates in which they reiterated there main points and thanked each other and wished the best for each other’s campaigns. The night then took an unfortunate turn of events, as Rick Perry wouldn’t be able to make it. Rod Smith took advantage of the opportunity to talk about his campaign and that for him the biggest issues are education, jobs, and the environment. I was really impressed with the amount of respect he showed towards Keith Perry even though they had important differences.
Going to the debate really made me admire the local and state politicians from our community here in Gainesville. Even though national politics has been a very frustrating thing for many Americans like myself recently, seeing the good, hard-working people here in Florida that are doing things to better this great place and the lives of those who live in it made me very happy. Government is an essential component of living the good life, because without it, society cannot function. No government is perfect, but as a Venezuelan-American, I am very thankful for our government here in America, as I have seen a country be destroyed because of its leaders. Politics may not function the way George Washington wanted it too in the 1700’s, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. We live in a moment where many would agree that our political system is in a bad spot, regardless of being a Democrat or Republican. And that is exactly why politics matters so much, and it is why people like Marihelen Wheeler, Chuck Clemmons, Rod Smith, and Keith Perry are important and need to be supported. When the presidential debates begin to look like what I saw at the debates at Santa Fe, then we will be in a better place.