Renae Brown has lived all over the Southeast – D.C., Atlanta, Orlando – but the University of Florida grad says Tallahassee is the place she calls "home." Like many of the city's 50,000 plus African-American residents, Brown says the cultural and economic amenities of Tallahassee attracted her 10 years ago and continue to make her want to stay put.
"Since I've been here, I feel like I've advanced professionally at a faster rate than I would have in other cities," Brown says. "There are a lot more opportunities – particularly in government – for blacks than other cities in this region."
As the capital of Florida, Tallahassee is home to more than 30 state government agencies along with law firms, trade associations and professional organizations, such as the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators and the Florida Bar Association, which provide a number of job opportunities for the city's African Americans. According to the Department of Labor, African Americans are more likely to be employed in the public sector, and nearly 20 percent of employed African Americans work for state, local or federal governments.
Tallahassee has traditionally been a Democratic city, and is one of the few cities in the South known for progressive activism. Tallahassee was the nation's first capital city to elect an African-American mayor, James Ford, in 1972; and in 2014, elected Mayor Andrew Gillum, recognized statewide and nationally as an emerging African-American leader.
"We elected a young, African-American mayor, who is very progressive, and many on his staff are people of color as well," Brown says. "You can see African-Americans represented in all facets of the community, from education to business to community service and activism."
Tallahassee is home to Florida State University, one of the country's top public research universities, and Florida A&M University, one of the nation's largest historically black universities. With so much brain power, it's easy to see why Tallahassee and Leon County have the most highly educated population in the state. Half of the city's residents have a college degree, compared to just 22 percent statewide and 24 percent nationally, and Leon County's high schools have consistently boasted a drop out rate below three percent.
The universities also provide both economic and cultural opportunities for African Americans. FSU and FAMU are the city's second and eighth largest employers, respectively. They also partner with the state department of education to sponsor K-12 lab schools. FAMU's Developmental Research School emphasizes a STEM-based curriculum, and FSU's university schools focus on research-based learning and community service.
"Tallahassee is a great city for African Americans because it hosts a diverse body of citizens consisting of families and students who attend many of the leading institutions of higher education and because it allows easy access to the political epicenter of our state government and promotes a strong sense of community," says Benjamin Crump, noted civil rights attorney, co-founder of Parks and Crump law firm and a longtime Tallahassee native. Crump has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, among others.
"Tallahassee is also a great place for African Americans because it's reasonably affordable, and there are so many opportunities to get involved in cultural events that are offered by the universities and community college, as well as community-based programs," says Ben's wife, Dr. Genae Crump, Director of Volunteer Program Services and Title 1D Coordinator for Leon County Schools.
Both FSU and FAMU regularly host educational and cultural programs geared toward empowering the African-American community. For example, the Black Male Initiative at FSU works to recruit more African-American men to the university and then offers a support network during their matriculation. The school's Black Student Union, which recently was awarded a grant to build a new headquarters on campus, hosts seminars and discussions on race relations.
FAMU hosts theatrical productions, musical performances and speakers throughout the year as well as the annual Harambee Festival, celebrating the city's multicultural heritage, each February. The African Caribbean Dance Theatre hosts the Annual Florida African Dance Festival each summer. Tallahassee is also home to the John G. Riley Center/Museum of African American History & Culture and the Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum as well as the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network, which works to preserve the state's African-American culture.
"There is always something to do here – whether it's attending a street party or working the polls at an election precinct. In fact, that's another reason why I love Tallahassee. There are so many ways to get involved and give back the community," says Brown, a member of the Chi Theta Zeta graduate chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
The 100 Black Men of Tallahassee's Saturday Academy, for example. provides mentoring, tutoring and college and career readiness training to African American kids, and Brown's organization sponsors scholarships and hosts a community-wide baby shower each year.
Down to business
Tallahassee's pro-business environment makes it easier for African Americans to start their own businesses. A number of resources and networking opportunities are available to black business owners, including the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce, a regional organization that helps promote minority-owned businesses in order to stimulate the north Florida economy, and the Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida A&M University, which offers consulting services and training for student and community entrepreneurs. Then there's the Minority, Women & Small Business Enterprise Division of Leon County and the Florida State University Supplier Diversity Program – both established to ensure a fair representation of African-American owned vendors for the state and university.
"African-American newcomers to the city of Tallahassee will find a city that celebrates some of the highest levels of racial and ethnic diversity in the region. African-Americans make up close to 35 percent of the population here. This means that from a cultural perspective, African-Americans in this community see reflections of themselves, their heritage, their religious mores, and so on. This creates a sense of place for us that is difficult to find in other cities here in Florida and beyond," says Gina L. Kinchlow, Interim President of the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce.
"From an economic standpoint, this is a great time to be a resident of Tallahassee! Recent changes in the organizational structure and processes of city and county government have removed old, unnecessary barriers and opened new pathways of opportunity. This kind of transformational economic development complements the foundation upon which the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce was established. We are now creating a local ecosystem that more honestly mirrors the composition of our community. This is smart government, and we are particularly encouraged by this timely move toward increased and comprehensive efficiencies. African-American business owners will find a city that supports the spirit of entrepreneurism and provides incentives to attract and sustain good businesses at every size."