Monday, May 02, 2016

Lovely article on West Augustine Leader Greg White

but Record neglects to mention that West Augustine was a thriving community until rabid racists ran Florida Memorial University out of town in retaliation for its heroic role in 1963-1964 civil rights protests. Then St. Augustine Record Publisher A.H. Tebeault, later Flagler College Vice President, was part of the racist Establishment responsible for that hostile working environment.

West Augustine advocate narrows focus and looks to the future
Posted: May 1, 2016 - 11:21pm | Updated: May 1, 2016 - 11:33pm

Greg White poses for a photograph on West King Street in the West Augustine neighborhood on Friday, April 29, 2016. White is resigning his position as chair of the steering committee of the West Augustine Community Redevelopment Agency to focus more of his time on economic redevelopment of the area. PETER_WILLOTT

After 14 years with the West Augustine Community Redevelopment Agency, Greg White announced recently he was stepping down as the chair of its steering committee. It was a decision, he says, that will free him up to pursue his work on economic development and to continue giving back to the community he loves.

White, who also chairs the community’s Weed and Seed Program, said Wednesday it is the “seed” portion of that program he wants to focus on.

When the Weed and Seed program was started as a federally funded initiative years ago, its goal was to work with local law enforcement and other community agencies to “weed out the criminal environment and then seed (the community) with economic development,” White said.

While a couple of pockets of “undesirable activity” still remain in West Augustine, White said there has been a tremendous improvement in the community with regards to crime. The federal funding is no more, but the program still exists. Now, White wants to bring businesses to the West King Street corridor that will not only provide jobs, but improve the quality of life for residents.

“The next two to five years, I just want to see real stores on that corridor,” he said. “I mean real stores that sell fresh fruit and bread. Something besides what we are getting now on King Street. I want to see a small restaurant … a small bank.”

Those things, he said, will be a welcome addition to the convenience stores that currently dot the predominantly black neighborhood.

“Too many of our young people ... that work at the different restaurants, or at the malls, the trash trucks, they don’t have a banking account,” he added. “So what they do, they go to these stores and they cash their check; they don’t do the math and they don’t know whether they are charging them 10 percent or 30 percent to cash their check. So the need for a small bank is a tremendous need here.”

The recent addition of a Family Dollar store — not yet open — is a proud moment for the community, according to White, and marks movement in the right direction.

“This will be the first national franchise in West Augustine history,” he said.

While he acknowledges that retail jobs are not among the highest paying, he does think the Family Dollar jobs will be a positive addition that can provide 401(k) plans and health and dental benefits.

A small national retail chain might not be welcome in every neighborhood in the county, “but here it’s going to make a difference because it’s going to give us a better job than maybe some of the ones [the kids have now],” he said.

It will also benefit residents with limited transportation options who live miles away from a supermarket. White said he considers West Augustine a “food desert.”

“If you want to go get a loaf of bread, it’s going to cost you three times more at that corner store than at Winn-Dixie,” he said. “So instead of walking or bicycling to the corner store, they can bicycle or walk to the [Family Dollar].”

It is progress White said he is hopeful he can perpetuate.

“We want to put a spotlight and say businesses are welcome here,” he said.

Why he does it

White moved to the St. Augustine area from Putnam County in the sixth grade. After high school he went to Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. When he came back from overseas there were no jobs in the area, so he spent a year in the Bronx, New York.

“I got homesick, so I came back,” he said.

He started working in construction and eventually launched his own concrete-finishing business. But with a wife and kids, he soon went looking for something with benefits and more stability. He landed a job as a meter reader for the city of St. Augustine and then with Florida Power and Light. He retired from FPL as a state-certified residential energy consultant after 27 years.

During that journey, he hit some obstacles. He was turned down for a job he wanted after one interview and sought the assistance of the Rev. Thomas DeSue and Henry Twine, who helped get him placed in another job. It was a hand up that inspires White to keep helping others.

“Without them, I don’t what I would be doing now,” White said. “You ask why I do it — it’s because of what they did for me. Not only me, there’s got to be hundreds of people that they helped.”

And it is why White knows he has more work to do than just attracting businesses to West Augustine. His goals, now that he is not putting so much energy into the CRA, are to work with the neighborhood’s young workers and local employers to change perceptions about the types of jobs available.

“These kids are working,” White said. “If you go to these sites, you will see these young West Augustine residents, but you see these kids in McDonald’s, Burger King and Steak ’n Shake … but you go to VyStar and they are not there. You go to Ameris and they are not there.”

Part of that has to do with the workers themselves.

“They don’t want to go to VyStar unless they see someone that looks like them in there … and they go to Burger King and they see all their friends,” he said. “So where are they going to go?”

But it also has to do with making both workers and potential employers understand that a food service job is a suitable starting point for a career.

“So my question to the banking institution is: ‘These kids can count money at Burger King or McDonald’s, why can’t they count money at Ameris? Why can’t they count money at VyStar?,’” White said. “These are the questions that with our Weed and Seed — with the seed portion — we are going to go and we are going to talk with them and we are going to find these qualified kids; if we can find them to be qualified at McDonald’s and deal with that customer service base … they can certainly deal with the customer service base in a bank.”

The future

It all takes time and there will be barriers to success; White understands that. But that is why, in March he made the decision to step down from the CRA.

He asked the Rev. Ron Rawls of St. Paul AME Church to take his place. White said Rawls has set an example of getting things done in the community, like the Street Light Program that he initiated as a safe, fun activity for kids who weren’t otherwise busy with extracurricular activities.

“So basically all I want to do is copy Rev. Rawls and say, ‘OK, Greg there’s no jobs here but what are you doing?’” White said. “‘Yeah, you’ve got obstacles, you’ve got barriers, but what are you doing to ensure that we get jobs here?’”

It’s a respect matched by Rawls.

Busy with his church and having to commute from Gainesville, Rawls said Friday the CRA was not something he was looking to take on. But White approached him, saying he didn’t want it to lose the momentum it had built over the years.

“The last thing I needed was more responsibility, but Greg is pretty convincing and he has a real passion for West Augustine,” Rawls said. “So I made that commitment for at least a couple of years to go in and provide leadership.”

He acknowledged that following White will be tough.

“He is outstanding; that is probably one of the reasons I was so hesitant about doing it,” Rawls said. “One of the last things I want to do is grab something that goes downhill. It’s going to be hard to duplicate what Greg White does.”

It’s a common sentiment among those who know White.

Sheriff David Shoar, who has known White for years and continues to support the Weed and Seed Program, said Friday that White “has been one of the most effective leaders and community activists that I’ve ever worked with.”

“He never wants the credit; he’s not a showboat,” Shoar said.

Which is why White expressed a little reluctance to be the center of attention at a Friday night “roast and toast,” held at the American Legion post on Pearl Street. He said he finally agreed because the $25-per-plate event raised money for the Kids Safe Zone, a tutorial program that White also supports.

Fundraising, mentoring, community activism and volunteering his time are not things White really sees as work. It is just who he is. In conversation, he transitions back and forth, seamlessly, between talking about his aspirations for West Augustine and telling stories about lessons he teaches his own grandchildren and helping them plan for their future.

He said Wednesday he worries about a lack of opportunities in the area for young people, particularly the ones with a college education and the associated debt. The lack of jobs, he thinks, forces them out of the county in search of work. Prospects aren’t much better for those who don’t go to college, he said. When he was a young man, White said, getting an entry-level job — like his meter reader job — was an important stepping stone for someone with a high school diploma.

“But you could start and then the doors would open up. … And then, of course, you could move up,” he said. “I don’t know whether that still exists today.”

White said it is what keeps him motivated, looking for ways to help and create opportunity.

“These are the kind of things that I will be doing,” he said. “Until I die, this is what I will be doing.”

gwendolyn 05/02/16 - 07:22 am 50West Augustine advocate narrows focus and looks to the future
Keep up the great works Mr. Greg White that GOD has committed to your hands to perform. Thank you so much for your support over the years in helping ACCORD with our Freedom Trail Luncheons, providing American Legion Post 194 Members to "Post the Colors" during our ceremonies to Remember, Recognize, and Honor the Heroes and Sheroes of the St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. We appreciate you so very much.

NEFLNative 05/02/16 - 09:36 am 20There are very few........
There are very few people that walk the streets of St. Augustine that have as much passion for and accomplishments made for our area. Greg White is truly a Blessing to the West Augustine community, St. Augustine and St. Johns County in its entirety! Thank you, Mr. White!

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