While there weren’t any protests in New Tampa, just a few miles up Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in Wesley Chapel, a hundred or so people gathered to make their voices heard. 
(Photo courtesy of Susan Boyle)

State Representative Fentrice Driskell says she has lived with racism her entire life, but not nearly as long as her parents Joel and Terry did growing up in the segregated south.

As the country continues to boil from the weeks of protests and marches following the death of George Floyd while in police custody on May 25, it is her parents’ optimism that fills Driskell, the State Rep. for District 63, which includes New Tampa, with high expectations for the future.

This time, she says, it feels different. It feels lasting. It feels productive.

“The hope and optimism they feel is wonderful,” Rep. Driskell says of her parents. “They are so excited that in their lifetime, they may actually see the realization of the dream that Martin Luther King was fighting for.”

While none of the local protests and marches took place in New Tampa, there was one a few miles north outside of the Shops at Wiregrass, as well as a few miles to the south, in the University of South Florida area along E. Fowler Ave.

(l.-r.) Richmond Place resident and CEO of the University Area CDC Susan Combs, Tampa City Council member Luis Viera and State Rep. Fentrice Driskell participated in a prayer walk organized by the Crossover Church on Fowler Ave.

What started as a visceral reaction to the death of Floyd beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer has grown into a larger conversation on racial injustice in America.

 “This has gotten everyone’s attention,” Driskell says. “I think this is the greatest chance that we’ve had since the civil rights movement (of the 1960s) to make some positive changes.”

* * *

The rain poured down on Susan Boyle and her daughter Emma on June 6, but it did not deter them as they stood at the intersection of S.R. 56 and Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in Wesley Chapel, taking part in their first-ever protest together.

Like many in this country, Susan, a Meadow Pointe resident, was overcome by the images on television — the death of Floyd, the massive crowds that protested his death — and felt like she wanted to do something. 

“It was heartbreaking seeing Mr. Floyd killed on TV while I watched,” Susan said. “I wanted to be part of the group saying ‘Enough is enough.’” 

So, she and Emma, a junior at Wiregrass Ranch High, stood in the rain. They sang songs of protest. They moved from corner to corner at the intersection, along with 100 or so others, many waving homemade signs, others just waving their hands, and with everyone chanting various songs and slogans.

She said the experience was overwhelmingly positive from passers-by. One driver, stopped at a red light, even reached out to hand her an umbrella before speeding off.

The unpleasant weather did little to dampen their enthusiasm.

Susan is like many people in this country – aware there was a problem, but unsure of what if anything, she could do about it. But, she said we would go to another march if one was held nearby, and will get more involved.

While she has seen her fair share of arguments over the merits of going to a protest on social media, she said there is something almost spiritual about being amongst people of all different colors and ages fighting for the same thing, and for the right thing.

She can’t help but feel she is watching what she thinks might be a transformational moment in our nation’s history.

“There is a tipping point when you see that people are starting to get behind an actual movement, instead of just a few days of lip service and then on to the next disaster,” she says. “When it started gaining traction, it was heartening to me, but I’m also prepared to be devastated if nothing changes. If nothing changes, then this country can’t change.”


Dean Reule, the pastor at Cypress Point Church on Morris Bridge Rd., says the murder of Floyd “both breaks and awakens our soul.”

In a written statement, he urges people, particularly those who are white, to be humble, not defensive, and to be informed.

“Please do not look away,” he writes. “Don’t minimize racial stereotyping, racial bias and justice issues. Research and study and pray with an open mind and heart. Genuinely seek to learn, opening yourself to better understand the experiences of those different than you.”

That is something Tampa City Council member Luis Viera, whose District 7 includes New Tampa, has preached long before protests, marches and riots took over large swaths of the country.

While the protests over Floyd’s death weren’t as acute in Tampa as they were in other bigger cities, Viera says it has still opened many wounds.

Viera (left) was critical of violent protesters and looters who hurt many of the local businesses along E. Fowler Ave. and Busch Blvd. – both areas in his district — on May 30, but praised the efforts the following day, when those who actually live in the community gathered to clean up. Viera was joined by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor in meeting with residents to listen to their concerns.

“I’d say this issue is a challenge to us all,” Viera says. “No matter where we live, we all have a duty to act. We need to build bridges and make historical wrongs right. I think you can feel a sense of urgency on the part of people.”

Viera and Driskell marched together on June 6 with congregants of Crossover Church on Fowler Ave. and community members to the site of some of the burned buildings to pray for racial justice and peace, as well as deliver gift baskets to the business owners hurt by the looting.

The two elected officials are are also working together on efforts to build a memorial for victims of lynching in Hillsborough County.

To find racial harmony, Rep. Driskell says it will require “uncomfortable conversations.”

And, for the first time in her lifetime, she feels both sides are ready to finally have them.

“I hope that everyone would know and feel and believe that they have something to add to the conversation,” Driskell says. “It really is going to take everybody in the community to come to the table and have those tough conversations. But, I am absolutely optimistic it can be done, and I feel activated and energized and proud that so many people are ready for it.”

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