The Jaguars overcame a 27-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 in the AFC wild card playoffs on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today
The Jaguars overcame a 27-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 31-30 in the AFC wild card playoffs on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

PHOTO ESSAY | Jacksonville 2023 in 23 images

Published on December 21, 2023 at 4:42 pm

Chronicling history as it happens is a weighty privilege that I accept with humility. Here are 23 of my favorite images from 2023 and a little bit of the story behind them.

Isaiah Oliver moved from Michigan to become the CEO of the Community Foundation of North Florida in July. Nat Glover is a Jacksonville native who served a trailblazing career in law enforcement and higher education. The two met in August, days before Glover’s autobiography published. They have since formed a friendship that spans generations.

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Former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover meets Community Foundation of Northeast Florida President and CEO Isaiah Oliver at WJCT Public Media on Aug. 22, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Glover and Oliver met on a Tuesday morning. That weekend would shake Jacksonville to its core.

A gunman opened fire around and inside the Dollar General in the Grand Park neighborhood on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023. Three people died during the rampage fueled by racial animus. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

A white supremacist opened fire at a Dollar General in the Grand Park neighborhood. The shooter killed Angela Carr, Jerrald Gallion and Anolt Laguerre Jr.

Paula Findlay was among the hundreds who attended a prayer vigil on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2023, following the mass shooting. Findlay is a lifelong Jaxson and principal at Arlington Elementary. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

I keep the funeral programs of Carr and Gallion in my work folder as a reminder to humanely and compassionately report this tragedy and the families devastated by it.

Two days after the shooting, I stood inside the vestibule inside the Edward Waters University gymnasium. Florida’s oldest historically Black university avoided tragedy that day, thanks in part to students who alerted campus security, who questioned the man who would continue on the Dollar General.

Before the press conference, Marcus Williams, CEO of the private security company that works at Edward Waters, made sure one of his employees, Antonio Bailey, was ready for the bright lights of the television cameras that awaited to hear of his heroism.

Marcus Williams, right, helps Antonio Bailey with his tie prior to an Aug. 28, 2023, press conference detailing Edward Waters University’s close encounter with a gunman who had his mind set on race-motivated violence. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

While we waited, I looked at the three dozen reporters who were in at Edward Waters that day. My mind drifted back to May of this year, when no other journalists were present when Edward Waters awarded master’s degrees for the first time in its history.

Jamal Bouie was one of 23 students to graduate with an MBA from Edward Waters University on Saturday, May 6, 2023. Bouie, 27, earned his degree while serving as a physical education teacher at Northshore Elementary. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Later that August evening, hundreds converged in James Weldon Johnson park to decry white supremacy and demand an end to rhetoric that they believed contributed to the shooting.

Monique Sampson is among scores of demonstrators marching through Downtown Jacksonville to protest white supremacy on Aug. 28, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

One person whose presence was notably missed during the August march through Downtown was Northside Coalition founder Ben Frazier.

We featured Frazier in last year’s photo essay when he was arrested at City Hall hours after undergoing cancer treatments. The cancer claimed him this June. Before he died, Frazier was all smiles with former Congresswoman Corrine Brown on election night in May.

Frazier was a proud Raines alumni.  

The Vikings once again were the kings of Northside football with their commanding win over Ribault in the Northwest Classic. The Vikings and Trojans met at First Coast High School this year because Ribault is being rebuilt.

The location may have been different, but the vibe at the annual rivalry game remained the same. Raines won 47-18.

Before the Vikings could dominate the Trojans in all three phases, City Council President Ron Salem flipped the coin between the two schools.

Jacksonville City Council President Ron Salem toss the coin prior to the 54th Northwest Classic on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. The Vikings lead the all-time series 40-14. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

After the game, longtime friends Solomon Thomas and Timothy Cole II shared a laugh. Ribault’s quarterback had enough sense to not don the maroon and gray hat that Thomas encouraged him to wear.

Raines offensive tackle Solomon Thomas (right) jokes with Ribault quarterback Timothy Cole after the 54th Northwest Classic. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

One week before Ribault and Raines showed how fierce rivals can live in community together, Hamas attacked Israel. In Jacksonville this year, though, there were reminders that Muslims and Jews can live peacefully together in a diverse community.

This Jacksonville photo essay wouldn’t be complete without the U.S. Navy, a constant, loud presence in all of our lives, regardless of our religion, politics or ZIP code.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels participate in the Sea and Sky Air Show at Jacksonville Beach on Oct. 22, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

The Blue Angels aerobatic team returned in October for the Jacksonville Sea and Sky Air Show and wowed thousands along Jacksonville Beach.

The Blue Angels in Jacksonville may be commonplace. The U.S. attorney general is not.

In October, AG Merrick Garland arrived in the Phoenix neighborhood and announced Ameris Bank was accused of hindering Hispanic and Black Jacksonville borrowers from obtaining home loans.

“Redlining is not just a relic of the past,” Garland said at the time. “Indeed, some of the neighborhoods that we allege Ameris redlined are some of the same neighborhoods federal agencies redlined in the 1930s.”

The U.S. Justice Department alleges Ameris Bank violated the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act through the denial and discouragement of home loan applications in Jacksonville. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

In November, Ameris and the Justice Department reached a settlement: The bank will invest $9 million in local Black and Hispanic neighborhoods over the next five years.

It echoed the words that Mayor Donna Deegan said in her inaugural address after her surprise upset over Daniel Davis: “We will invest dollars into our neglected neighborhoods and bring long-ignored residents into our partnership for Jacksonville’s future.”

Donna Deegan is inaugurated as the first first female mayor of the 45 in the city’s history, on July 1, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Deegan wasn’t the only politician to make national news in Northeast Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis extolls civics education on March 23, 2023, at Ridgeview High School in Orange Park. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Gov. Ron DeSantis frequently visited the region this year, at times to sign legislation on the Westside, applaud civics education in Orange Park, attend a vigil in Grand Park or sign a memorandum of understanding with a foreign governments at JAXPORT.

“In Florida, we think we have a responsibility to help graduate students out of our school system with a foundation of understanding of what it means to be an American, a foundation of understanding of what are the principles that have made our country unique and made our country great,” DeSantis said during a March appearance at Ridgeview High School before he launched his presidential campaign.

DeSantis also signed education legislation that stirred controversy in Jacksonville and beyond.

In September, hundreds gathered in James Weldon Johnson Park to read books by authors whose work was not approved to appear in school districts across Florida.

“We can stand up and provide support to our students, through our public libraries, through churches, through organizations like Children’s Literacy Initiative, by putting these books in the hands of students so that they can liberate themselves that literacy leads to liberation,” said Children’s Literacy Initiative CEO Diana Greene, who retired early this year as Duval Schools superintendent.

When the event was over, Jacksonville resident Johnnetta Cole spent a few moments with Greene under a gazebo as the rain fell around them. Cole is one of the few people who is president emeritus of two historically Black universities. She was awarded a key to the city of Jacksonville in August.

Two weeks later, Edward Waters kicked off its best football season in nearly two decades at home against Florida Memorial in the Big Cat Classic. The Tigers lost 38-21, but the sold-out crowd at Nathaniel Glover Community Field & Stadium was treated to quite a show at halftime. The Triple Threat and ROAR Marching Band were supposed to be the headliners, but the Edward Waters University Purple Thunder dance troupe stole the show.

Purple Thunder member Mekhaila Bowman-Alexander performs during halftime at the 2023 Big Cat Classic. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

On the other side of Downtown Jax, the Jaguars’ season may have ended 2023 on uncertain footing, but back in January, the Jags surprised everyone by overcoming a 27-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL playoffs. Riley Patterson’s field goal at the buzzer sent many of the 70,250 spectators at what was then called TIAA Bank Stadium into a frenzy.

The Jaguars celebrate a 31-30 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC wild card playoffs on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

The Jaguars’ home stadium got a new name this year: EverBank Stadium.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan and Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan celebrate the opening of the Miller Electric Center on July 18, 2023. The $120 million facility was equally financed by the team and the city of Jacksonville. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

In 2024, the facility could also get a new plan for what it will look like by the end of the decade, as the city of Jacksonville and the Jaguars negotiate how to pay for renovations.

author image Reporter email Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at

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