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Leon Russell - Chair, NAACP National Board of Directors
Op-Ed June 12, 2023

A Warning to All - Florida is Home to Hate

Leon Russell - Chair, NAACP National Board of Directors

Recently my home state of Florida has been at the center of heated debates. We have faced a devastating near-total abortion ban, new laws further restricting trans rights, a war against immigrants, and extensive efforts to remove DEI programs and Black history curricula from our schools. Our state's so-called leaders' unrelenting assaults on fundamental rights have made Black residents and visitors alike feel unwelcome and unsafe in our state. 

The NAACP is committed to ensuring that Florida is a place where Black Floridians can exist freely and have every opportunity to thrive. Unfortunately, that is not a reality right now under Governor Ron DeSantis' thumb. He has proven that his Florida poses a threat to our lives and livelihood. We refuse to allow his vision for Florida, and this nation, to become our reality. Our travel advisory is an effort to put the country on notice — if you are Black, if you are a woman, if you are an immigrant, if you are part of the LGBTQ+ community — be aware that your life, your full being, is not valued by Florida's so-called leaders. 

As Americans, we encounter advisories every day to help us stay informed and stay safe. For example, we use simple television and movie advisories to protect our families and children from content that might threaten their well-being. In the same fashion, our advisory, informed by concerns raised by Black Floridians themselves, openly disclosed that Florida is hostile toward not only Black people but also to other people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and especially women. We want the entire country to be wide awake and fully aware of what they may encounter if they visit. 

Since he took office, Ron DeSantis has been on a mission to control and restrict freedom of expression and fundamental liberties. Through his legislative agenda, he has created an environment that is unsafe, particularly for Black Americans. The administration's efforts cater to the gun lobby, bans essential reproductive healthcare, limits immigrants' rights, and pushed legislation that puts trans people in harm's way. 

Recently, these harmful policies have gone even further, robbing our economy of billions of dollars and countless jobs as DeSantis targets corporations that have spoken up to defend our community. Just last month, Disney canceled plans for a major investment in the state, calling the Governor "anti-business" and "anti-Florida." Reports show that Disney planned to invest $1 billion, which would have undoubtedly helped create more jobs. Floridians are paying the price for these dangerous and ill-advised policies. 

Corporations are not the only ones leaving Florida – families across the state have made the difficult decision to leave in search of greater safety and support. Earlier this year, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union explained that they decided to leave Florida because the state was no longer safe, let alone an affirming place for their daughter. In a recent interview, Dwyane affirmed what many Floridians know to be true: "My family would not be accepted or feel comfortable there."  

Black Floridians are under attack from our own state government, and those in elected positions of power have their eyes set on making their version of "success" in this state a reality across the country. 

The NAACP's travel advisory served as a spotlight on the lack of support and respect that Black Floridians receive. We uplifted the struggles of Black Floridians and the potential dangers that Black people, women, and other vulnerable communities may face due to this hateful leadership. 

The sun now shines bright on the future of Black Floridians because of the NAACP's travel advisory. People are awake and ready to take action to make sure that we can reverse the hate-filled course. People are more ready than ever to support Black businesses, residents, and students because DeSantis' attack on us is clear and understood. 

The NAACP's highest priority has been, and always will be, the betterment of Black people. We cannot stand for DeSantis' vision for Florida, which he sees as his blueprint for America. We call on people across the country to listen to the needs of Black Floridians – knowing that they are, in fact, the needs of all of Black America – and join us in our continued fight for equality and freedom. Join your local NAACP branch as we work against hate-based policies to create a sustainable and equitable future.

Leon W. Russell

Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors


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