Jacksonville faith leaders & Northside Coalition traveling to Tallahassee for rally at Capitol

Motorcade trip is in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration blocking new Advanced Placement course on African American studies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Faith leaders from the Jacksonville area and members of the Northside Coalition left Wednesday morning to travel to Tallahassee, where they will protest at the Capitol against a recent move by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration to block a new high school Advanced Placement course on African American studies.

Florida education officials previously wrote in a letter to the College Board, which oversees AP classes, “As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

“In the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, (the education department) will always be willing to reopen the discussion,” the letter continued.

In a statement, the College Board said, “Like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multi-year pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars and policymakers.”

“The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result,” the statement read.

The Rev. Al Sharpton — as well as Jacksonville faith leaders, including Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Jr., senior pastor of the Bethel Church in Jacksonville, will make the trip as keynote speakers. McKissick has previously spoken out about the administration’s move.

“Tell me why you think this has no value for those going to college. Tell me. What are you afraid your children are going to discover about the history of this country?” McKissick told News4JAX in January.

Ben Frazier, of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, spearheaded a motorcade of a few dozen people Wednesday that left from the intersection of Laura and State streets in Jacksonville around 7 a.m. They were headed to the demonstration in Tallahassee.

The Northside Coalition and Jacksonville faith leaders led a group to a rally at the Tallahassee Capitol on Wednesday. (WJXT)

Nancy Hunt, who traveled to the Capitol Wednesday, is a professor at the University of Florida. She considers the governor prohibiting those topics as suppression of speech and history.

“We need to put those concepts out there and discuss that. It is not necessarily one way to teach those concepts. If you suppress them, you are going to just create more trouble for people wanting to learn about those things outside school,” Hunt said. “They should be taught in schools and in universities and discussed and critiqued and debated.”

On Tuesday, he spoke to News4JAX during a demonstration outside City Hall. He said DeSantis’ efforts to weaken the high school AP course means the governor is attempting to divide Black and white Floridians.

“We don’t need some whitewashed version of history. We’re just looking for the truth to be told, especially about the many contributions, the blood, sweat and tears set by Black folks in the making of America,” Frazier said. “This governor is playing on our feelings. It is unfortunate because what he is doing is a slap in the face to the state’s 3 million African Americans. It’s wrong.”

DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, has opposed what he calls liberal ideologies in schools, including lessons around critical race theory, which examines systemic racism and has become a frequent target of conservatives.

He spoke in Jacksonville Tuesday and said now he is weighing other options for students to acquire college credit other than using College Board courses.

“College credit, yes. Having that available for everyone, absolutely. Does it have to be done by the College Board or can we utilize some of these other providers, who I think have really strong track records? I do not think anyone should be concerned about somehow our high school students not having the opportunity for that,” DeSantis said. “They absolutely will and it’s just a matter of what is the best way to do it.”

Last year the governor signed legislation dubbed the Stop WOKE Act that restricts certain race-based conversations and analysis in schools and businesses. The law bars instruction that says members of one race are inherently racist or should feel guilt for past actions committed by others of the same race, among other things.

More recently the governor’s budget office called on state colleges to submit spending information on programs related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory, raising concerns of potential funding cuts around such initiatives.

The rally on the steps of the old Capitol building in Tallahassee is set to start around noon Wednesday. There will be a few keynote speakers, including Sharpton.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.