Dr. Rick Harper Provides Disturbing Poverty Data on Escambia County


By: Tony McCray

This past Saturday, Dr. Rick Harper, the Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Opportunity at the University of West Florida, shared very disturbing data with the participants of the Gulf Coast Regional Equity to Achieve Prosperity (REAP) Planning Conference at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Downtown Pensacola, Florida.  A group of twenty-three business professionals and non-profit organization leaders joined the organizers of the event; Dr. Calvin Avant of Unity in the Family Ministry, Tony McCray and Associates, Mike Hicks of Hixardt, an African-American owned Technology Company.  The organizers utilized the event to obtain input from around the community for the design of the agenda for the actual REAP served on August 19th and 20th to be held at the Pensacola Grand Hotel (formerly the Crowne Plaza).

The disturbing data showed that a large number of children born into poverty in Escambia County remain poor into adulthood.  When Dr. Harper compared Escambia County to other counties in Florida, the Western Gate to the Sunshine State is ranked at the very bottom of the Florida county listing.   Then, he presented the chilling data that Escambia also ranks just ahead of the lowest 2% of counties nationally in children moving out of poverty when they become adults.

The data was commented on by John Rigsby and his business partner Dr. Jessica Griffin of the Pensacola-based Urban Development Center. They urged that the planning conference participants entertain reviewing Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro published in 1933.  The issue they articulated referred to answering the question of “the what and the why” of this lack of upward mobility in Escambia County.  Questions also were presented to Dr. Harper on whether the data reflected a racial breakdown of the data and he answered in the affirmative.   

The Gulf Coast Regional Equity to Achieve Prosperity (REAP) Planning Conference was designed to serve as an opportunity for representatives of business, government, education, community and faith-based leaders to offer ideas and input to the REAP Summit agenda in August.  The goal of the summit is the preparation and development of an Escambia County Community and Economic Development Blueprint that challenges the social, economic, and environmental disparities that exist in African-American and minority communities. The diversity of professional disciplines and geographical representation provided for a wide view of responding to the issues confronting Pensacola and Escambia County.

The neighborhoods were well represented by the Tan Yard Neighborhood Association, the Belmont and DeVilliers Neighborhood Association, an Englewood-based business owner  and the Wedgewood and Cantonment communities were all represented.   

The former mayor, Gary Loster of Saginaw, Michigan was recommended by an associate of his, Charles Colbert, to serve as a speaker, along with Ms. Ursella Slusher, the CEO of Imperion Aerospace who recently moved to Pensacola. Mike Hicks of Hixardt shared some of his aspirations with the group from Cyber-Security Training to opening a Department of Commerce Minority Business Development Program housing minority firms in a business incubator environment for growth and corporate relationship building.  Mike Hicks, of Hixardt, was also nominated for a speaker’s position on the summit’s program and John Rigsby and Dr. Jessica Griffin of the Urban Development Center have been asked to facilitate the Education and Workforce Development REAP Summit track.

The planning conference organizers have a model that is being offered as an approach to successful local and regional collaboration for utilizing the BP Oil Spill RESTORE Act funds and the larger BP Settlement dollars to leverage even larger private sector investments. Continue reading  the Pensacola Voice for ongoing updates on the 2016 REAP Summit on August 19th and 20th.

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