Choosing the Stories that We Listen to: What I gained from the New College Water Oral History Project


Our culture develops from the stories we hear and tell. This is how we derive meaning, make sense of the world, and understand ourselves and others. In philanthropy, politics, activism, and virtually every other part of life, a powerful story is what often drives us to action. The late media scholar, George Gerbner said, “We experience the world through stories. Whoever tells the stories of a culture defines the terms, the agenda, and the common issues we face.” Unfortunately, throughout history, those in power have had control over which stories will be told and which ones will be silenced, and the majority of the stories we hear today are told by a handful of global conglomerates.

Due to the current state of the storytelling, in which 90% of news and popular media is controlled by six different corporations, we should not underestimate the subversive power of actively choosing the stories we expose ourselves to, and the stories we tell. We should empower storytellers that are often unheard, and we should question the dominant stories of that define our culture. By doing this, we can help catalyze a cultural shift. On January 28th, four New College students, in collaboration with faculty and Sarasota community members, had an opportunity to help do just that.

An audience of over 40 people gathered in New College of Florida’s Sainer pavillion to hear the stories of four long-time Sarasota residents: Dr. Ed James, Laurel Kaiser, Shelia Cassundra Hammond Atkins, and Wade Harvin, Jr. The event was the culmination of the New College Water Oral History Project which pairs New College students with individuals who spent their lives in Sarasota, for an in-depth interview about what their life was like. The students used audio and video editing software to turn a two-hour interview into a nine minute final product. The project is part of a class that has been taught by Professor of Anthropology, Erin Dean, since 2009.

Three of the interviewees: James, Atkins, and Harvin, are residents of Newtown, the historic African-American community in Sarasota County. They told stories of how their lives were touched by the racial segregation and discrimination of the mid to late 1900s. Despite having grown up in roughly the same time and community, each account was vastly different. Dr. James tells a story of resistance and of the role he played in integrating the Sarasota library system. Mrs. Atkins recalls being oblivious to segregation as a young girl in a loving family, and facing the hardships of integrating into a white high school in her teenage years. Mr. Harvin, Jr. tells a story of gratitude and forgiveness in the face of racial violence.

The audience was fascinated by these accounts, asking question after question, trying to understand what it was like to be a part of marginalized community at that time. The speakers offered an opportunity to understand racial segregation and discrimination as something beyond just a concept briefly reviewed in an American history book. Through hearing the lived experiences of Dr. Ed James, Shelia Cassundra Hammond Atkins, and Wade Harvin, Jr., I realized more deeply that the lives of billions were shaped by struggle, resistance, and unity in the face of racial violence.

Opportunities like the New College Water Oral History Project allow us to choose which stories we hear, instead of only listening to the loudest ones. Creating and supporting more spaces for untold stories is the only way that we will counteract the influence of those who strategically manufacture our culture, and create a counter-culture of peace, unity, and understanding.

SCOPE at the Library Staff Development Day

By Ann Hardy,  Community Engagement Coordinator l  Sarasota County Public Libraries

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If you wanted to see a real cross-section of Sarasota County, where would you go?  I’d argue that the most diverse places in the county are our libraries.  Go in any library and you’ll see baby strollers, walkers, tattoos, diamonds, yarmulkes, uniforms, hijabs, saris, suits, and cowboy boots. The libraries’ patrons are job-seekers, language-learners, beginning readers, travelers, business owners, story-seekers, and more.

Librarians and library staff have an opportunity to make a real difference in our community by connecting these diverse people with the resources they want and need. To do this, librarians need to have a good understanding of both the current reality of people’s lives as well as the aspirations people have for themselves, their families, and their community in the future.

During a recent Staff Development Day for the employees of the Sarasota County Libraries, John McCarthy, Leah Duncan, and Juliana Musheyev from SCOPE, and I gave a presentation on Sarasota County and the communities within the county. The presentation was a combination of what the Harwood Institute would call “Expert Knowledge” (statistics, indicators, and trends) and “Public Knowledge” (knowledge about the community formed from conversations).

Through an interactive presentation, SCOPE shared basic demographics and indicators about education, employment, health, crime, and poverty in Sarasota County.  They also broke down the statistics to show the unique aspects of communities within the County.

To reflect the Public Knowledge of the communities, SCOPE used responses library staff had gathered from conversations with individuals throughout the County.  The staff had asked people:

  • What kind of community do you want to live in?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • How is that different from how you see things now?
  • What are some of the things that need to happen to create that kind of change?

Leah had aggregated the responses to show the people’s aspirations for their various communities.  Living in safe, socially connected, and vibrant communities were some of the most common sentiments.

After taking this deep dive into the realities and aspirations of our communities, the group was asked to consider what they, as library staff, could do to meet the needs of their patrons and to foster the kind of community people want.

Thanks, SCOPE, for assisting our library staff in staying aware of and connected to the communities we serve.


Remembering Maureen Hadden


It’s hard to imagine SCOPE without Maureen Hadden – and for good reason – Maureen was a part of SCOPE before the organization was created. Hired by Tim Dutton to provide administrative support for the non-profit Human Services Planning Association of Sarasota County Inc., Maureen helped in the transition when the HSPA became the new organization named SCOPE. Known for being a “quietly effective” administrator, Maureen wore many hats: bookkeeper, office manager, file guru, e-newsletter editor and as SCOPE evolved, she took on the role of coordinating the annual celebration and also became part of the community engagement team.

I met Maureen in July of 2012, when I was invited to be a part of SCOPE’s transition team, at a time when she was considering retirement. SCOPE Transition Team Leader Trish McConnell talked Maureen into continuing her important role – and thus I had the chance to work with Maureen for three years. During that time I watched Maureen handle all of her responsibilities with grace and professionalism. One of the things I quickly learned was that Maureen could cheerfully tackle almost anything – given the freedom, she could exceed even her own lofty expectations. Her ability to relate to others was exceptional – she interacted comfortably with everyone – from long-time SCOPE supporters to the newest New College intern. At work Maureen was all business, but in our birthday lunches and other celebrations we would see another side of Maureen that was personal and fun.

It is often said that the sign of a good leader is how an organization functions without them – and so with Maureen’s medical leave of absence, we gained an even greater appreciation for her organizational skills. Everything that needed to be done was in the calendar – all of the files were organized and in place. It was like she was guiding our work from a distance.

As a part of SCOPE’s 2015 Annual Celebration and Boundary Crosser Award Ceremony, we shared with attendees a small but powerful video showing images of Maureen at SCOPE over the years and capturing people’s feelings for Maureen via smart-phone clips. Three months later, she lost her battle with an aggressive cancer and passed from this physical world…but not from our lives and hearts. While we miss her presence, at SCOPE we feel her legacy each and every day.

Please join us for Maureen’s Memorial Services to be held on Saturday, February 6th, 2016 at 1pm at National Cremation, 2990 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota.

Our Environment is Important to Our Economy


On September 1st, SCOPE’S John McCarthy and several others were invited to speak at a luncheon hosted by the Science and Environmental Council and the Argus Foundation. The topic of the luncheon, which was attended by 150 people, was the importance of the environment to the local business economy in Sarasota County. SCOPE distributed the above infographic, illustrating how a healthy economy is connected to a healthy environment.

In Sarasota County, our natural environment and our economy are deeply connected, in part because tourism brings $1.5 billion to our local economy each year. According to our analysis of TripAdvisor postings, 40% of activities on “TripAdvisor’s top activities in Sarasota” are outdoor and environmental activities such as nature walks, bike tours, kayaking, and snorkeling. In addition, 5% of activities are “environmental attractions” such as MOTE Marine and Selby Botanical Gardens.


Sarasota County has the unique opportunity to lead Florida into a sustainable future.  We are recognized as a leader in the greening of local governments, holding the highest certification score within the FGBC Green Local Government Certification program.  We are the first local government to have signed the 2030 Challenge Resolution, which calls for all new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030. We are also the first local Florida government to gain a LEED building certification, we reduced drinking water consumption per capita by 40 percent, we preserved 16,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land, and we have one of the highest recycling rates in the state.We have come a long way, and there is a lot more to be done.


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Sustainability resolutions and ordinances passed by Sarasota County since 2001

There is no doubt that citizens in Sarasota County are passionate about preserving the environment. Organizations like Transition Sarasota and the Sarasota County UF/IFAS extension are some of the leaders in the local effort to make Sarasota County a sustainable community. Next week (October 24th-28th) Transition Sarasota will host its annual Eat Local Week with several opportunities for Sarasota Residents to immerse themselves in the local food culture. The Sarasota County Sustainability Department will also be holding a workshop on October 28h on the State of our Food shed, and a Sustainable Community Workshop on December 3rd.

If there is anything I have learned through my involvement in this community, it’s that people, businesses, and government must work together to make significant change. When it comes to our environment: our natural landscapes, mangrove tunnels, beaches, native plants, clean water and air, fish, birds, manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles, I think we can find common ground. These are things that we should preserve for the future of our economy and for future generations. These are the things that bring people to Sarasota, and more importantly, these are the things that make people want to stay.


The Tribal Leadership Ladder: Self-Reflect to Have an Effect

Vibrant war paint, wooden huts, guttural chants…

Do these things come to mind when you hear the word “tribe”? For me, they sure do: Instinctively, a picture of either Native Americans or jungle dwellers pops into my head.


Consider a new meaning of the word, one referring to all the groups of people that we associate and work with. In that case, what kinds of tribes do you belong to?  Think companies, organizations, families, and friends.

Seeing the world in terms of tribes can help us be thoughtful communicators, valuable contributors, effective leaders, and more compassionate human beings. Want to see how? Read on!

In a popular TED talk*, University of Southern California professor and author David Logan discusses the tribes that all humans naturally form and categorizes them into five stages.

Stage One is NOT a nice place. At all.

Prisons, gangs, and murderers function in Stage One. These tribes, which account for about 2 percent of the world’s population, do the least good and the most harm. Most people rarely encounter Stage One, but we shouldn’t forget that those in this destructive stage have the potential to move up the tribal ladder.

In Stage Two, we see things getting done and problems being solved.

…But not very quickly. Stage Two is the stereotypical bureaucracy: Nobody’s happy and everything takes forever. These tribes have a culture of hostility and dissatisfaction that impedes collaboration. Approximately one quarter of the world operates here. To quote Logan, these tribes say “My life sucks.”

Moving to Stage Three, we note a shift in attitude.

Stage Three tribes say, again quoting Logan, “I’m great. And you’re not.” In this stage, where almost half of the world operates, individuals feel good about themselves only if they’re doing better than the person next to them. Stage Three tribes are productive and energetic, but egocentric and internally competitive.

United by a cause and cognizant of its own existence, the Stage Four tribe shifts from “I’m Great” to “We’re Great”. This kind of unity puts the success of the team above individual accomplishments. Once individual egos are out of the way, Stage Four will significantly outperform Stage Three in terms of profit, results, and getting things done.

Stage Five tribes are the world-changers.

Every so often, a streamlined group rallied around a noble cause is able to convince other tribes to support them – this results in a global impact. An example of Stage Five: The Truth and Reconciliation process led by Desmond Tutu, where thousands of individual tribes were drawn together to transition South Africa from apartheid to democracy.



Good to know. So we should all start rallying our tribes with Stage Five ideas, right? Not quite.

Here’s perhaps the most important part: Great leaders speak the language of all 5 tribes.

Logan asserts that tribes are responsive to language one level above and below their own. The best leaders don’t impart Stage Five values on the Stage Three masses: they don’t say “We Have a Dream”, but “I Have a Dream.”

What can you do to cross tribal boundaries?

  • Effective leaders push their tribes in the right direction, toward the next stage.
  • Effective leaders extend their influence not only by gaining followers, but by connecting people who don’t know each other, creating a powerful network that can achieve more than any one tribe can alone.

As Sarasota County gears up for SCOPE’s Annual Boundary Crosser Award on September 8th, let’s keep the five stages of tribal leadership in mind. Through effective networking, communication, and strong core values, the leader in each of us can help cross boundaries – and inch our way up the tribal ladder.

Will your tribe change the world?

* Watch the TED Talk here. This article is a summary of the concepts outlined in Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Logan, King, and Wright.

Sam Schimek is the Community Engagement Intern at SCOPE for Summer 2015. Sam is also the founder of the Face to Face Foundation, a nonprofit focused on promoting conversation skills in our age of reliance on technology. He will matriculate at Washington University in St. Louis this fall.


5 Facts about the Age-Friendly Communities Initiative

In SCOPE’s last newsletter, we asked our readers to contribute their voices to the Age-Friendly Sarasota initiative by taking a survey distributed by Kathy Black, Ph.D., a gerontologist, professor, and leader of Age-Friendly Sarasota on behalf of The Patterson Foundation.  Although I helped put the survey on our website and into our newsletter, I did not look that deeply into the initiative. As a recent college graduate, I wrote it off as something that does not pertain to me. However after doing some research about what age-friendly means, its importance to my life became evident. Aging is something that happens to almost everyone, and it would be nice if my community is accessible to me by the time I am older. In addition, our cities and neighborhoods must allow for active participation of people of all ages and abilities in order to be sustainable in the years to come.

Here are 5 facts that will help you understand what age-friendly means, and what Age-Friendly Sarasota aims to accomplish.


1. The movement to create an “age-friendly world” was created by the World Health Organization to meet the challenge of urbanization and population aging.

The project was conceived in June 2005 at the opening session of the XVIII IAGG World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It gained immediate interest because of the awareness of two global phenomena happening simultaneously: population aging and urbanization.

The world is getting older. By 2050, there will be more elderly people in the world than children (aged 0-14) for the first time in human history1. At the same time, cities are growing rapidly. In 2007, half of the global population lived in cities. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030 that number will be at 60%. Currently, the proportion of older people residing in cities roughly matches that of young people (around 80%). The realization of these two simultaneous phenomena led the WHO to recognize that we must make cities more physically and socially accessible to older people, in order to make them sustainable.

2. The initiative drives us to rethink what aging means.

The idea behind making cities and communities “age-friendly” is that older people are resources, not burdens. From this enlightened mindset, we are inspired to change our social and built environment in a way that enables older people to actively continue to participate in the community. This consists of a wide range of efforts including making buildings more accessible, having reliable and affordable public transportation, having employment and volunteer opportunities available to older people, and having facilities where people can gather and socialize.

Enabling this active participation would, in turn, benefit the entire community. Families experience less stress if older people have access to adequate health services and community support, the community benefits from participation of older people in volunteer and paid work, and the local economy benefits from their patronage.

3. The Age-Friendly guide and checklist was created using a bottom-up participatory approach

This is the part of the initiative that I found most exciting. In creating the guide for what an age-friendly city should look like, the World Health Organization talked to actual people (ages 60 and over) about what they thought should change about their cities. If only this approach was used more often!

Research was conducted in lower and middle income areas in 33 different cities in both developed and developing countries. In total, there were 158 focus groups with 1485 participants. The WHO also held focus groups of caregivers and service providers (765 in total).

Participants of the focus groups discussed eight different topics, which are known as the Age-Friendly City Domains of Livability. These topics are: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services. Based on what the participants said about each one of these topic areas, the WHO created the “Checklist of Essential Features of Age-Friendly Cities”

4. Sarasota was the first county in Florida to join the Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

The World Health Organization has a global network of age-friendly communities that consists of 210 cities worldwide. The national affiliate for the program in the U.S. is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The AARP has its own network of age-friendly communities that is modeled after WHO, which has a membership of 56 cities nationwide. The networks are different entities, but they have similar criteria.

The purpose of creating a network, in both cases (AARP and WHO) is to link participating cities together to share information and best practices. Network members get organizational guidance, assessment tools, information, invitations to trainings, and recognition. Sarasota County joined the AARP network of age-friendly communities on February 24th, 2015. It was the first county in Florida to join the AARP network and apply to join the WHO network.

5. Obtaining and maintaining the “age-friendly” designation by the WHO is a cyclical multi-step process.

Age-Friendly Sarasota is currently in the planning phase of creating an age-friendly community. This involves conducting a two year long baseline assessment of the County’s age-friendly assets and future aspirations of older people in the community.  The results of this assessment will be used to create a roadmap for next steps. The diagram below illustrates the process of obtaining and maintaining an age-friendly designation by the World Health Organization.


To participate in the assessment of our age-friendly assets take this survey conducted by Kathy Black. The most important thing we can do now is lend our voices so that they can be considered as we move forward.

I believe that as Sarasota moves toward being more age-friendly, it will also become more youth friendly. If we are successful in improving each domain of livability, our streets will become safer and more walkable, our public transportation will be more reliable, and our housing will be more affordable. These are all facets of not only an age-friendly community, but a healthy and vibrant one as well. If we commit to this effort, our county has a very bright future.


Bikeability and Walkability in Sarasota County: a Key to Attracting Talent and Feeding our Local Economy

Two weeks ago, the SCOPE staff had the pleasure of participating in an event hosted by Dr. Lisa Merritt, a highly regarded community leader, physiatrist, and founder of the Multicultural Health Institute. The event, which was held at the North Sarasota Library, was focused on highlighting health disparities in our community. It was held in celebration of the life of Eleanor Ball, a community leader who has worked tirelessly as a health advocate. To me, the most profound part of the event was when we broke up into groups and started talking to each other about the state of health in our community.

In groups of eight to ten people, each one with a facilitator and a scribe, we all answered and discussed each of the following questions:

  • What is your vision of a healthy family?
  • What is your vision of a healthy community?
  • How do things differ from the current situation?
  • What could be done about this situation?
  • Why should something be done about this situation?

These questions were met with answers regarding not only access to healthcare and nutritious foods, but parenting, family time, safety, relationships, and developing job skills. One conversation that seemed to spark a lot of enthusiasm in my group was concerning the walkability and bikability of Sarasota County. Group members all agreed that our built environment has a huge effect on our health. We want to be able to walk to work, go on a bike ride, and easily get around without having to drive. We want lots of parks to go to and trails to walk through. We all agreed that although Sarasota has made some improvements, such as the renovation of Old Bradenton Road., there was still a lot to be done, especially regarding bicycle and pedestrian safety.

 Walkability and Bikeability in Sarasota County

Currently, Sarasota County has more than 230 miles of inventoried bicycle facilities and more than 1,300 miles of inventoried pedestrian facilities. Pedestrian facilities are localized in the county’s most urbanized areas, including downtown Sarasota and Venice. North Port, the city with the highest population in Sarasota County, has the lowest amount of bicycle and pedestrian facilities available to residents [1]. Last year, Sarasota County published a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan aimed towards identifying and implementing goals regarding bikeability, walkability, and livability in Sarasota. The plan is partially based on the results of a Community Assessment Survey distributed in 2011 through webpages, libraries, and other county facility. The survey’s goal was to assess the priorities of our community regarding bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

According to the Community Assessment Survey, which had 900 respondents, the top priorities to consider for future bicycle and pedestrian path connections are “pedestrian/ bicycle safety” and “filling gaps of missing sidewalks and paths”.

Figure 1: Priorities to Consider for Future Connections. Data Source: Sarasota County, Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan.

Figure 1: Priorities to Consider for Future Connections. Data Source: Sarasota County, Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan.

If we look at bicycle crash data for Sarasota County, this priority comes as no surprise. Figure 2 illustrates the percent of the total population of each county in Florida that has been involved in a bicycle crash. Sarasota County ranks third (0.048%), behind Monroe (0.17%) and Pinellas (0.062) counties [2].

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Figure 2: Percent of the Total Population Involved in a Bicycle Crash. Data Source: Florida Integrated Report Exchange (2014). *Calculations made by SCOPE

Between 2007 and 2013, there were 1,756 bicycle crashes in Sarasota County. The majority of these crashes have happened along roadways. Figure 3 compares the percentages of crashes that occurred on roadways vs. intersections (roadways are represented by the blue area). Figure 4 shows that most of the bike crashes on roadways have occurred on Tamiami Trail., the majority of which does not have a bike path.

Figure 3: Percentage of Bicycle Crashes on Roadways vs. Intersections. Data Source: Sarasota County, Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.  Figure 4: Bicycle Crash Counts on Roadways. Data Source: Sarasota County, Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

Figure 3: Percentage of Bicycle Crashes on Roadways vs. Intersections. Data Source: Sarasota County, Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
Figure 4: Bicycle Crash Counts on Roadways. Data Source: Sarasota County, Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

That data above demonstrates that Sarasota County is not the safest or most convenient place to rely on a bicycle, but how about relying on walking? Real estate agents and homebuyers have been using a figure called a “walk score” to rate how walkable a city or neighborhood is. Walk Score analyzes hundreds of walking routes to nearby amenities. Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities in each category. A score of 0-24 means that almost all errands require a car, 25-49 means that most errands require a car, 50-69 means that some errands can be accomplished on foot, 70-89 means that most errands can be accomplished on foot, and 90-100 means that daily errands to not require a car. Sarasota city has a walk score of 49, meaning that it is car dependent, but edging on being somewhat walkable. Venice has a walk score of 29, and North Port has a walk score of 6.

Why Is This Important?

Walkability and bikeability make a community more healthy, economical, and sustainable. Having amenities in closer proximity to residences helps eliminate food deserts, and allows people to have access to nutritious foods. Beyond that however, bikeability and walkability seem to be a top priority for the younger generation when they are deciding where to live. Keeping young people in the county is a major concern in the community right now.

In 2014, the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America released the results of a survey of Millennials in 10 major U.S. Cities. According to the survey, 54% of Millennials say that they would consider moving to another city if they had better options for getting around. Furthermore, 77% of Millennials in aspiring cities say that it is important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car [3].

If you are interested in learning more about the walkability of Sarasota, visit, check out Sarasota County’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and read through previous SCOPE blogs on walkability in Sarasota County.





Celebrating Kathy Baylis

Photo Courtesy of Debra Jacobs

Photo Courtesy of Debra Jacobs

One day last week at SCOPE, my pen rolled off the desk and fell between the desk and file cabinet. I slid my chair over and noticed it had fallen on the floor. Unable to reach it by hand; I grabbed a letter opener and began to fish it out. I noticed there were other items that had fallen as well. I fished out my pen along with two cards. The first was an old SCOPE postcard that read “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi.  The second item was a thank you card from Kathy Baylis to Suzanne Gregory thanking her for her assistance in the R.O.L.E Summit that was several years ago. I read it and it took my breath away, because in about two hours we would be attending a bench and tree dedication at Oscar Scherer State Park for Kathy Baylis. With excitement I had to share it with John McCarthy, we both looked at each other and smiled. “Bring the card with you” John replied.   At the dedication the story was shared and everyone was very happy, was this a coincidence? Or was Kathy’s spirit still working in many ways?

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I not only left with peace, joy, and gratitude in my heart, but a gift from John Horne, from Kathy Baylis.

Residential Segregation and Housing Discrimination in Sarasota County

by Juliana Musheyev

Juliana Musheyev has recently graduated from New College of Florida with a degree in Sociology. She has a passion for social justice and equality, and community engagement.

Let’s talk about race. I know it’s hard, I know it’s uncomfortable, but it is important. The facts are there, easily accessible for anyone who cares to look: we do not live in a post-racial society. We could look at incarceration rates, household income, high school graduation rates, unemployment rates, etc.; in all of these aspects, people of color are at a disadvantage. One of the biggest issues that has perpetuated racial inequality in the United States has been the residential segregation along racial lines. Since the 1930’s, the geographic segregation of African-American people has been slow and deliberate. Segregation first occurred by legal means such as exclusionary covenants and redlining. After the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, these methods became illegal. However, just like the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, simply passing a piece of legislation was not enough to affect change. The enforcement of the Fair Housing Act was and is lacking and largely inconsistent.

Residential Segregation in Sarasota County

Geographic segregation along racial and class lines is still an issue in the United States, and Sarasota is no exception. How segregated is Sarasota County? Racial distribution is measured using a dissimilarity index, which ranges from 0 (fully segregated), to 100 (fully integrated). One way to interpret this measure is the percentage of the minority population that would have to move in order to achieve full integration. A dissimilarity score less than 30 represents low segregation, 30 to 60 represents moderate segregation, and 60 to 100 represent high segregation. The table below shows the dissimilarity index rankings in Sarasota County from 2010. With a DI ranking of 55.6%, Sarasota County is close to being highly segregated when it comes to the black population.

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Figure 1: Sarasota County Dissimilarity Rankings, 2010. Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2101 Census; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates.

Areas that have high black concentrations also tend to have high levels of poverty.  The two maps of Sarasota County below demonstrate this trend. The one on the left highlights areas of high black concentration (14.7% or higher), and the one on the right highlights areas of low or moderate income (LMI) concentrations (45.5% or higher). The entire area that has a concentrated black population also has a concentrated LMI population. This high concentration of poverty exacerbates other issues, such as lack of community and educational resources, employment, and social capital.


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Figure 2: Concentration of Black Residents in Sarasota County. Data Source: Sarasota County Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates.

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Figure 3: Concentration of LMI Residents in Sarasota County. Data Source: Sarasota County Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates.

Housing Discrimination in Sarasota County

One of the causes of residential segregation is housing discrimination. Many people in the United States and Sarasota would like to believe that housing discrimination no longer exists. However, recent studies conducted in Sarasota County by the Fair Housing Continuum (FHC) suggest otherwise. In 2011, undercover control and tester individuals were sent to 27 different housing facilities as interested buyers or renters in order to test for discriminatory practices. The study was looking for discrimination based on race and disability; therefore the testers were either black or disabled. 15 tests were performed on the basis of disability, and 11 were performed on the basis of race (Mullin Lonergan & Associates; Sarasota County Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice).

The results of this study are shocking: 60% of the tests performed on the basis of disability, and 91.7% of the tests performed on the basis of race, resulted in discrimination findings. A similar study was done in 2014. Out of 20 complexes tested, 40% were found to give differential treatment based on race or disability. Another 30% were found to give both differential treatment and conditions based on race and disability (Fair Housing Continuum; City of Sarasota).

What does housing discrimination look like today? Instances of discrimination in the 2011 study resulted mainly from differential treatment. A tester would be told that a unit is unavailable, while a control person would be told otherwise. In some race tests, testers were asked for personal information, while control people were asked nothing of a personal nature. In some tests, testers were given higher rent prices than control individuals. If you are interested in a detailed account of the findings, the test results can be found here. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (OFHEO) processes complaints regarding violations of the Fair Housing Act. Between 2002 and 2011, 106 complaints were received from across Sarasota County. Below is a table that shows the alleged basis of those complaints.

figure 4Figure 4: Alleged Bases of Discrimination Complaints Filed through FHEO, 2002-2011. Data Source: HUD FHEO, Region IV.

The data above gives us a sense of the discrimination practices of our decade as opposed to  those of the 1930’s. There is no longer much blatant refusal to sell, but there is still differential treatment which prevents minorities from obtaining housing. Differential treatment and conditions, unlike legal discrimination, is more difficult to prove and, therefore, more difficult to address.

Last year, the FHC presented the findings from the housing discrimination tests to the City Commission. The City Commission was rightly concerned, and passed the reports along to the Human Relations Board. Controversy about the validity of the test results ensued on the basis of flawed methodology. Board Chairwoman Kimberly Walker was skeptical about the findings and wondered whether differential treatment could have been the result of differences in attitude and body language. However, other commissioners and local politicians disagreed that the studies were invalid. Vice Mayor Susan Chapman was quoted in the Herald Tribune as saying that “all you have to do is look at our city and how segregated it is, its obvious.” Currently, the Human Relations Board is examining the methods of the investigation. It has been more than six months since they have received the report (Ian Cummings; Herald Tribune).

Race and Affordability of Housing in Sarasota County

Fair Housing is defined as the ability of persons of similar income levels to have the same housing choices regardless of race, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin. However, black households in Sarasota County are three times more likely to live in poverty than white households (American Community Survey 2006-2010 5-year Estimates). Therefore, when we speak about fair housing choice, we must also speak about affordable housing. Sarasota County is overbuilt; however there is a severe lack of affordable housing. The median income needed to purchase a house in Sarasota County is $48,145. In 2010, the median income for black households was $30,601, 64% of the income needed to purchase a home. This significantly impedes them from homeownership.

figure 5

Figure 5: Maximum Affordable Purchase Price by Race/Ethnicity, 2010. Data Source: 2006-2010 American Community Survey; Sarasota Association of Realtors; Sarasota Tax Collector’s Office; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates, Inc.

What do we do? I think the most important thing is that we start talking about race. Recognizing the problem and being able to discuss it as a community is the first step to solving it. If you are interested in further reading about impediments to fair housing choice in Sarasota, check out this report published in 2012 by Mullin & Lonergan Associates. The organization has developed an action plan (page 133) which addresses each impediment to fair housing choice, and lists possible solutions. Concrete solutions are important, but I believe that in order to truly address racial segregation in our community and in the United States, an ideological shift is necessary. This shift can only result from information and community conversation. If you would like to be part of a conversation about fair housing choice, you can attend the upcoming Fair Housing Seminar, which will be held in Selby Library on Thursday, April 23rd at 10:15am. For more information visit:

P.S.: It should also be mentioned that housing discrimination and affordability is big issue for the Hispanic community and people with disabilities as well.

Reading Prerequisites

At the beginning of a college semester, my professor opened the calculus class stating *loosely paraphrased* that the greatest struggles students have with calculus isn’t the calculus material, it’s their poor algebra and geometry comprehension. And this was a truth that I heard over and over at the beginning of various courses—with respect to the subject at hand. If your French grammar and comprehension was too weak, it would be hard to keep up with the reading assignments in 18th Century French Literature. This is why there are course prerequisites…but what if you miss a prerequisite that virtually impacts all of your future studies? What if you miss a prerequisite that virtually impacts every aspect of your life? What if you don’t know how to read?

This month, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, speak on two different occasions, bringing light to both the challenges youth are faced with and the efforts to reduce the academic inequity. This campaign focuses on the 3rd grade reading level and the achievement gap that results from the “summer slide.” He presented this video, which illustrates the likelihood that the income bracket children are born into impacts their academic attainment. Based on two fictional characters, this video illustrates non-fictional statistics related to literacy. One statistic highlights “that by the time they reach kindergarten, Jamie [low income child] will have already have fallen behind Jordan in language and pre-reading skills by 12-14 months.” Further, the low-income student loses months of learning during the summers between school years (“summer slide”) and 80% of low-income students cannot read by the end of third grade.

There are efforts to reduce the academic inequity with respect to literacy. This video is a news report of “Horizons,” a summer program that helps reduce the summer slide. This program mirrors a summer camp, with engaging, academic activities in the morning and physical recreation such as swimming in the afternoon, giving low-income students the opportunity to continue learning during the summer so they don’t end up further behind.

Sarasota County’s FCAT passing rate for 3rd grade reading is higher than the Florida’s passing rate, but still leaves room for improvement. In 2014, 71% of 3rd graders in Sarasota County passed the FCAT and 57% of 3rd graders in Florida passed. Recently, a program has been developed in our own county to close the academic gaps. Alta Vista Elementary School’s Eagle Academy fosters the growth of both parents and students. This year the Eagle Academy will offer a summer academic program for students entering kindergarten and first grade that focuses on “reading, language development, mathematics, the arts, and social and emotional skills” as well as afternoon recreational activities. Further, parents have the opportunity to go to “Parent University” and a certified nursing assistant program.

Imagine all the barriers you would face if you could not read at the third grade level. This video, Is America Dreaming, looks at the issue of social mobility in the United States based on the percent chance a person will end up in various income brackets based on the income bracket they were born into. One clip shows the benefits of going to college–but what chance do you have to succeed in college if you don’t even know how to read. The inability to read at the third grade level creates a barrier that has the potential to hugely impact how you are able to interact with the greater society, from academia to socializing to reading signs to learning more information.

Illiteracy is an issue we must address in order to be a country that honestly offers an equal opportunity to attain a decent standard of living. It’s important to assist those who have already slipped through the gaps, those who are already past the third grade but still cannot read at the third grade level. Simultaneously, we must ensure that this is not a problem for our future generations. It is time for us to be both reactive and proactive.