by Vanessa Woodard Byers
Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was the keynote speaker at the annual Black History Month Convocation at Florida A&M University yesterday. Her speech was interrupted by protests from a group of FAMU students. Ciara Taylor stood and shouted towards Carroll about Carroll being selected for her position by Gov. Rick Scott because of her color. Taylor was escorted out of the event. Other students walked out in solidarity.
Some FAMU students don’t think it was appropriate for Taylor to publicly embarrass the Lt. Governor but it was just a matter of time until something like this occurred. Carroll has tried to walk the fine line of being Black and Republican in the second highest position in Florida government where the GOP has done so much to turn back the clock on civil rights while professing an environment of equality and opportunity.
It is likely Carroll’s position has benefitted Blacks in some way but the general public is not always privy to decisions made at certain levels. Many Black officials have also tried to maintain the delicate balance of not offending the powers that be while celebrating the historical significance of Carroll’s election as the first Black Lt. Governor of Florida. It was, however, just a matter of time until there was public backlash by Blacks against Carroll.
Many FAMU students had not forgotten Carroll’s comparison of Florida Gov. Rick Scott to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. last month in celebration of King’s birthday.
“On Monday, we’re going to be celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday and I can’t think of anybody currently in my life right now that more epitomizes the values and the vision of Dr. King than Gov. Rick Scott.”
Comparing Gov. Scott to Dr. King was not a good move. It is not exaggeration to characterize that statement as tantamount to complimenting Fidel Castro in the Cuban exile community. Yes, really, it’s just that egregious.
To put this situation in its proper perspective, one must also be mindful of the historically contentious relationship between Florida A&M and State leadership. I’m not going to rehash that now as that history has been shared many times in reaction to recent coverage of the hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion. As a matter of fact, it was Gov. Rick Scott’s ‘interference’ in that matter that set off a firestorm of protest by FAMUans from current students to alumni. The Governor threw gasoline on the fire by implying that all FAMU students are poor and lived in public housing as did he.
It’s easy to connect the dots and understand the students protest even if you disagree with their methods. It’s also important not to frame this latest FAMU student protest as a racial issue as clearly the Scott administration is not perceived positively by many in various demographic groups.