TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – While nationwide protests push for racial and social justice, Tampa Bay area organizations like the Straz Center are joining in the effort.
The death of George Floyd sparked unrest and renewed push for racial equality across the nation. The calls for justice are being answered here in Tampa Bay by several organizations, one being the Straz Center.
“I was the first person to perform here when the Straz Center opened in 1987,” Fred Johnson said.
Johnson is a legendary jazz artist and the community engagement specialist at the Straz Center.
“As someone who has spent my entire life dealing with racism and discrimination, it’s never too late to step into a real commitment,” he said.
He’s talking about committing to anti-racism. It’s a renewed push by the Straz Center after the murder of George Floyd.
“I think it was a wake up call to everybody in this country, not just us, that we all have to do better and step up,” said Judith Lisi.
Lisi is the executive director of the Straz. She says the organization is stepping up in a new way.
The Straz now has a 10-point action plan that promises to be inclusive, diverse, equal and accessible to all. They also have internal listening sessions and work groups to discuss how to diversify the organization and how to be inclusive in their programs.
“We looked at our programming, we looked at how we present ourselves promotionally to make sure everybody out there sees themselves here,” she said.
Johnson says the Straz has always been committed to anti-racism but he says this time, things are different.
“We’re having, maybe for the first time, the most authentic conversation about racism,” he said.
The Straz also created “Voices of the Community.” It’s a virtual event where Johnson leads town halls to educate the community on Black stories within the arts.
“To really be able to share stories so that all of our community can be aware of the contributions that Black and brown people made,” he said.
The organization also has its “Legacy Arts Remix” event where local artists perform, pay tribute to and educate the community on various cultures around the world.
“I feel like the Straz has already been committed to that but now more than ever because we recognize we must go forward in a different way.”
Lisi said this commitment and the fight toward an anti-racist culture is a marathon, not a sprint, but she believes the Straz is on the track.
Upcoming Voices of the Community events include:
Thursday, March 25: Voices of the Community Town Hall – History Makers, Trail Blazers
- This month’s town hall celebrates the African American women who advanced civil rights and inspired generations while shaping this city we call home. Join us on March 25.
Thursday, April 22: Voices of the Community Town Hall – A Jazz Legacy
- Join us on our jazz journey through Tampa Bay from the historical relevance of Tampa’s Central Avenue and St. Petersburg 22nd Street. While Jim Crow laws denied them freedoms, Black musicians, such as The Deuces, filled the cities’ segregated community “jazz joints” with the music they originated.
Thursday, May 27: Voices of the Community Town Hall – Dance, Dance, Dance
- Artists and experts, representing a broad range of the African American tapestry of dance in the Tampa Bay area, will discuss how the art form helped define the communal and cultural richness of our communities of color.
All “Voices of the Community” town hall meetings will be held on the fourth Thursday each month through June at 8 p.m. on the Straz Center’s Facebook page. You can learn more about the Legacy Arts Remix and get tickets on the Straz Center website.