ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The City of St. Petersburg has a new partnership with the University of South Florida to identify systemic racism and discrimination in the city by figuring out which policies and practices reinforce racial inequalities.
“Why did we engage in this work? This is a service to humanity," said Dr. Ruthmae Sears, Project Leader and Associate Professor of Mathematics at USF. "It goes back to a basic word, one word called access — access and opportunity and how do we honestly have those conversations where we really seek to do better. Two words, just do better and really move forward and promote humanity."
Sears says St. Pete officials reached out to USF to explore a potential partnership to examine issues of structural racism throughout their neighborhoods.
“I commend the City of St. Pete significantly for their willingness to do an honest soul-searching reflection where they speak to the humanity and really seek to support their community in an equitable approach,” said Sears.
A team of researchers from USF started working with the city a few months ago, analyzing the city’s data and trends to identify structural racism while addressing problem areas and biases.
“We started to have a conversation relative to, how do we address this, because the focus is really on quality of life and we realized that when you think about data, data can tell us different things. It can talk about correlation and causation,” said Sears.
They’re digging into inequities within the city’s criminal legal system, unemployment, economic development, and healthcare system.
“Really look at, what is the root cause of this? Because you realize that if the foundation is built on flawed grounds, more than likely a homeowner would continuously have to do repairs because the foundation was not well established,” said Sears.
Researchers are looking at how these entities are possibly limiting opportunities for growth for minorities, especially the Black community.
“It’s not just about me versus you, but how could we move us all forward? With inclusivity, we take for granted the pain and suffering of oppressive situations or underrepresented identities. You'd realize many interventions when you implement them correctly, it doesn’t just benefit one group, it helps everyone,” said Sears.
Project members are also looking a the city’s history and data trends over time to see what’s been going on with policies and infrastructure over the past several decades.
“To really start seeing what’s going on in the data relative to historical trends because if you’re not interrupting certain behaviors, your data may not likely change,” said Sears.
Next week, this team will present their finding and recommendations to the city council.
“We’re going to be sharing that we do see in the trends. I mean historically, St. Petersburg is not unique to racism history relative to policies and practices of segregation and inadequate housing,” said Sears.
Going forward, Sears says this is not a one-and-done situation. They're exploring opportunities for funding to continue doing more of this work throughout the community.