Slavery marked the start of inequality between blacks and whites in America since 1619. In 1814, Zephaniah Kingsley brought slaves to pick Sea Island cotton, boil sugar cane, plant indigo and more on a 32,000-acre plantation in Jacksonville. Each Make a Difference! Leadership Academy class visits the plantation to identify the link between discrimination and historically poor health outcomes like high infant mortality rates in black communities.
The Leadership Academy is a 16-week course on grassroots leadership instructing individuals in the community to advocate for necessary changes that contribute to socioeconomic status, health disparities and birth outcomes. The Coalition launched the initiative in 2012 to change the trajectory of a community through the individuals trained and assisted in the development of a Community Action Plan.
The United States acquired Florida from Spain in 1821, and the government – fearing slave rebellion – enacted dehumanizing laws that caused Florida’s black population to deteriorate from conditions such as laboring for a long time in the hot sun and beatings for what was considered disobedience, such as getting tired, pausing on the job and much more.
In the leadership classes taught to the group, they learn about the social determinants of health and discuss weathering – the cumulative socioeconomic disadvantages of black women attributing to
physical deterioration of the body which results in poor birth outcomes. Since 2013, the class added a field trip to the Kingsley Plantation as a historical presentation of how and why these disadvantages exist.
When the Leadership Academy enters the plantation visitor center, they receive a half-hour history lesson on the difficult farming conditions the laborers endured in the hot sun, carrying heavy burlap sacks of crops. Then the group does a tour of the plantation – the kitchen, the owner’s house, the garden and the slave quarters, which slaves made by mixing cooked oyster shells mixed with sand and water to make a cement paste called tabby.
When the class learns of the resiliency and creativity of the slaves through the whole experience, they become more determined to push for changes that bind equity into their communities.
Demetria Drayton, a Leadership Academy participant, believes that the plantation was left in place so that the journey the slaves took can be examined by future generations. “Looking in the past will soothe your troubled mind from all the unanswered questions,” Demetria expressed. “Even when everything seems to fail, look at your ancestors who suffered and believe that we are blessed only through the sweat and blood they shed to get us where we are today!”
Pictures of this historical field trip can be found here.