NAACP leader wants to see development

Published June 8, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Darryl Rouson says he wants "real development" in Midtown.

To him, that means "projects where the prosperity that is being made in other sectors (of St. Petersburg is being) made in Midtown by black people."

"If we can't get private development dollars, if people think we're such a crime-ridden, barren wasteland," Rouson said in a telephone interview Monday, "then we ought to have control of our own destiny."

Rouson, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was asked to discuss the organization's future after a near-capacity crowd attended its 72nd annual Freedom Award banquet in the Coliseum on Saturday.

Midtown, a 5.5-square mile area bounded by Second Avenue N and 30th Avenue S between Fourth and 34th streets, has been the focus of efforts to improve resources to a community where many residents are African-American and have low incomes.

Numerous people, including Rouson, have expressed optimism that Tangerine Plaza, the shopping center being built at 18th Avenue S and 22nd Street, will offer new conveniences and services to Midtown residents. A Sweetbay Supermarket will be the retail plaza's anchor store.

Challenges remain, however. Bank of America decided in late April not to build a branch in the center. The fatal shooting of a black drug suspect in Midtown on April 12 produced criticism of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Herb Snitzer, a photographer and political activist who is a member of the NAACP's executive committee, said he, too, is concerned.

"As we know, there's a lot of money that's been coming into St. Petersburg," he said. "A huge section of St. Petersburg is being outpriced in terms of housing. That's a very pressing issue for the black community and for (all other) working class people in the city of St. Petersburg."

Snitzer said he worries about the "lack of attention toward the NAACP by the rising black middle class and professional class. We have very few doctors who are members and very few lawyers who are members, and it bothers me that the organization has evolved in this way."

Snitzer credited Rouson with re-energizing the NAACP.

State Rep. Frank Peterman said he saw the NAACP as becoming a more activist organization "that is trying to look at economic empowerment, which is even more intense than economic development."

He said it was gratifying to see Midtown improvements under the administration of Mayor Rick Baker "that we heretofore have not seen at this level."

Snitzer called Rouson a positive leader, and Peterman said Rouson and the NAACP are correctly focusing on "empowering a community to take care of itself."

At Saturday's dinner, keynote speaker Richard Boykin used a broad brush in painting a portrait of where the United States needs to improve in matters of race.

He noted "serious erosions in freedom because of increased security" since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He cited excessive school dropout rates among young black men, the scarcity of role models for black males and the high ratio of black males who are "caught up in the criminal justice system." He said black women are the fastest-growing population of Americans going to prison and contracting HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.

"I am not so sure that the children growing up today will enjoy the freedoms of their parents and grandparents," said Boykin, the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Chicago.