City of Jacksonville


Mayor Deegan's MLK, Jr. Unity Breakfast Speech

January 12, 2024

It is time for us, together, to create new realities and possibilities for our city. When we are successful, on that new day – we will have done our part to bend the arc of history toward justice. And then, in the spirit of Dr. King, “unarmed truth and unconditional love” will indeed be the final word in reality.

Good Morning. I hope all of you are having a good time being here this morning. This gathering is proof of what happens when persistence fuels our passion for unity. And when love leads us to forgiveness and empathy.

Dr. King echoed theologian Theodore Parker to say, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I want to reflect on what this means to us as a city.

Our city is indeed beautiful, vibrant, and growing. It is not something we say to make ourselves feel good. The world knows this. For cities with a population of a million or more, Jacksonville is number four in the nation and number one in the state of Florida, according to U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of best places to live in America.

As proud as we are of this success, no one should deny that this prosperity is unevenly spread across our city. And the inequities are largely experienced around racial lines.

While segregation and redlining are dead by law, their ghosts still haunt our neighborhoods.

In Jacksonville, overwhelmingly Black zip codes have median home values nearly 10 times lower than zip codes that are White. The same areas of town that have lower home values also experience life expectancy that is nearly 10 years shorter than the rest of the city.

The northwest quadrant of our city, which is predominantly Black, has poverty rates 5 to 10 times higher than other parts of our city. And it is not a coincidence that Black babies in Jacksonville are three and half times more likely to die in infancy than White babies.

Call it whatever you want – systemic racism or racial inequality – the fact remains that race in Jacksonville still largely determines life expectancy, infant mortality, home ownership, and job opportunities.

True prosperity is prosperity we all share.

So, to bend the arc of history towards justice will require our collective efforts in the present. Government, businesses, philanthropy, and nonprofits, all pulling in the same direction.

To that end, my administration is engaged in serious and substantive conversations with business, non-profit, and philanthropic leaders. Our goal is to move our city from deep seated and persistent racial inequities towards opportunities that bless all neighborhoods.

Two weeks ago, you saw a vivid example of our public-private partnership.

Yes, we finally took down the last Confederate monument in Jacksonville.

In doing so, we signaled a belief in our shared humanity. That we are all created equal. The same flesh and bones. The same blood running through our veins. The same heart and soul.

This was not in any way an attempt to erase history but to show that we’ve learned from it. That when we know better, we do better by and for each other. 

My prayer today is for a city that continues to embrace unity. One that keeps lifting as we climb.

So my administration is also taking other substantive actions. With the help of the City Council, we are launching programs to address racial inequities in infant and maternal health.

We are putting millions into early literacy and afterschool programs to bridge the education gap caused by a system that opens doors of opportunity for some but keeps them locked for others.

We are investing millions more in our pools and parks, particularly in underserved neighborhoods, so that our kids have better places to play and grow up healthy.

We are jumpstarting programs to keep a roof over people’s heads. One such program is to help struggling families save for a down-payment. Another is to solve the multi-layered issue of homelessness.

This is just a start.

Which is why we will do more in the upcoming budget for 2024-25.

There have been 20-thousand 191 days since Jacksonville was consolidated. And we still have not fulfilled the promises made to our Black citizens. Former State Attorney Harry Shorstein described Jacksonville as a “tale of two cities.” This can no longer remain our story. Change for good must become reality.  

We must recognize a basic truth - that our individual destinies are inextricably bound to each other. The smarter the child, the healthier the mother, the better educated the worker – the safer, wealthier, and happier the city we all live in.

When we know better – we must do better.

The United States Constitution once valued black and brown men at 60-percent that of white men.

We know better now. So, we do better now. Not perfect, but certainly better.

Marrying whomever you love – was once outlawed.

We know better now. So, we do better now. Again, not perfect, but better.

The Constitution calls on us to form a “more perfect Union.”

That means working together to stamp out the racism that runs from slavery to segregation to redlining to voter suppression to mass incarceration.  

Recently we were all heart broken by the racist mass shooting that took three beautiful souls away from us. While speaking out against racism, we must also remain united against hate in all its forms. We must condemn all fear based messages that seek to divide and marginalize our people. Let us act together to lift and celebrate the beautiful mosaic that is Jacksonville. And let us do it as brothers and sisters. 

Members of one family. God’s family.

In his March 1968 speech at the National Cathedral, on 3 occasions Dr. King referenced Revelations – Chapter 16, “Behold, I make all things new; former things are passed away.”

We do not forget the “former things.”

We use their lessons to “make all things new.”

It is time for us, together, to create new realities and possibilities for our city.

When we are successful, on that new day – we will have done our part to bend the arc of history toward justice.

And then, in the spirit of Dr. King, “unarmed truth and unconditional love” will indeed be the final word in reality.