Sunday, March 7, will mark the tenth anniversary of the march, which drew thousands of Florida’s black residents to Tallahassee in protest of the One Florida Initiative.
The initiative replaced affirmative action with race-neutral, legally defensible practices meant to expand diversity in education and the workplace. For Florida’s public colleges, admission would be guaranteed for all students graduating in the top 20 percent of their classes. When the bill passed in 1999, black leaders from around the state took to the streets as if the sky would fall. Ten years later, not much changed for blacks, especially in the state university system in Florida.
Although the initiative was meant to “level the playing field,” it really just upheld the status quo.
Since the enactment of the initiative, the number of minorities enrolled in the state university system has remained steady.The only growth was limited to Hispanics, mostly at Florida International University in Miami—an area with a high concentration of Cuban-Americans. Coincidentally, Florida’s Cuban electorate, were staunch supporters of the bill.
According to the Florida Board of Governors, the number of blacks enrolled in the state university system remains stagnant, falling by only 0.6 percent since 1998. Florida Atlantic University experienced the state’s largest increase in black enrollment as it rose from 12.5 percent in 1998 to 17.1 percent in 2008.
The University of Florida, the state’s largest public college, experienced a small increase in black enrollment. However, this growth occurred only in its undergraduate programs. The number of blacks enrolled in UF graduate and professional programs is still abysmal.
All other state schools, except Florida A&M saw their black headcounts fall. Florida State, which touts its black graduation rate as being the highest in the nation, experienced a 2 percent dip in black enrollment. Overall, Black enrollment numbers remain in line with the state’s population.
In an effort to level their own playing field, black parents and community leaders in Florida must make sure that black children are able to compete with their ethnic counterparts.
College preparation starts with exposure—something minority children (the majority of whom live near or below the poverty line) in Florida have trouble gaining. Exposing children means finding money to start after-school tutoring programs, summer programs and field trips-all geared toward college preparation. Affording children extracurricular like the aforementioned is thought to raise standardized test scores and social morale.
One Florida did not help or hinder blacks. Affirmative action got blacks into schools and businesses that would not accept us before; and One Florida simply kept blacks in those places.