PerspectivesNikesha Elise Williams Jacksonville Today Contributor
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OPINION | On the come up 

Published on May 17, 2023 at 1:37 pm
Jacksonville Today seeks to include a diverse set of perspectives that add context or unique insight to the news of the day. Regular opinion columnists are independent contractors who are not involved in news decisions. Want to submit your own column on a matter of public interest? Email pitches to jessica@jaxtoday.org.

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That’s the standard instruction for remote work introductions. It’s a digital shorthand to make the awkwardness of getting to know a new colleague less weird now that my office walls have been traded in for living room sofas. From the little rectangular box where my head bobbles on screen I fill in the blanks of the basics about me. When I’m finished I’m generally met with quizzical stares. Then someone who refuses to let the confusion linger asks aloud, “You live in Florida.” 

I roll my eyes and chuckle nervously, awkwardly. “Yeah. I know. America is the ghetto and Florida is trash.” 

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My swift denouncement of my chosen home is met with commiserating nods of approval and then questions about how I manage to live in a state that in my professional circles is considered fringe. 

“I like Jacksonville,” I’ve answered on more than one occasion. 

And that’s an honest answer. 

Recently divorced, I’ve been asked if I will leave Jacksonville for somewhere else, like Chicago, where I’m from; New York, the center of the literary world and my chosen profession; Atlanta, which is like New York and L.A.’s Southern baby; or somewhere else entirely. 

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While the caveats and reasons vary, I answer, “Jacksonville is home.” 

And it is. 

And because it’s home, I follow the advice of ancestor James Baldwin, who said of America, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

I criticize this bold new city of the South consistently, but I’m not above applauding when ovation is due. And, Jacksonville, ovation is due. 

Tuesday night, Donna Deegan made history becoming the first woman mayor of the city of Jacksonville. A centrist Democrat, a former news anchor (I produced for her when I first moved to Jacksonville in 2011), breast cancer survivor, leader of a nonprofit, wife, mother and so much more will lead this city for the next four years. 

I am heartened that voters, despite the grim turnout rate, cast their ballot for change. They rejected the politics of the GOP machine that spun warped narratives about history and movements for justice as “extremism” that tramples on American values, rights and freedoms. I am emboldened that money didn’t triumph over the grassroots efforts (in comparison) of someone who wants to do genuine good for all the people of Jacksonville. 

Tuesday evening, Deegan said, “Love won” and discussed unity. I’m all for unity but I also want to see equity. 

Though Jacksonville may have the appearance of a small, sleepy southern city where the tea is sweet, the manners impeccable, and the charm ingratiating, “Bless your heart,” a big fish in a little pond it is not. With a population of 1 million people and counting, Jacksonville is on the cusp of explosive growth, and with growth comes not only a change in demographics and political leanings, but also a requirement that the city work for and with everyone who comes, who chooses to call this city home. 

People shouldn’t have to cross a bridge to find safety, food security, piped plumbing, and above-adequate schools. Citizens of this city shouldn’t know to avoid certain ZIP codes after dark and certain parks during the day. The Westside, Northside, and Eastside should be seen as prime locations for growth and development without the erasure wrought by gentrification, just as the Southside is. Hopefully with our newly elected Democratic property appraiser — hey, Joyce Morgan — the fair valuation of property is among the top priorities, as well as rent stabilization, and a tenants bill of rights. 

There are a lot of other wants I’d like to see Deegan stand on including an independent police review board, a civil citation program for first-time nonviolent offenses, and more in the name of public safety; but more than anything I’d like to see accessibility, transparency, and honesty. It’s what’s been missing from city politics — in the mayor’s office and on the City Council — for years. 

Issues everyone seems to agree are good policy or even just good for optics always get studied but never get a vote (Confederate monuments). Horse trades no one asked for are assumed all but done deals unless the feds get involved (JEA). And future visioning is left for the next mayor and the next mayor and the next mayor until we the people accept that though we have riverfront and coastline in spades, never will we run the yard amongst all the other big, little towns.

Perhaps July 1st will truly mark the beginning of a new era for a city perpetually on the come up. As someone who has chosen this place as home, I certainly hope so. And will be tuned in to find out. 


author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.


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