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Florida’s Shevrin Jones never thought he’d have to propose bill to ‘legitimize my Blackness’

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State Senator Shevrin Jones is fighting back against an environment of fear and anxiety in Florida as a result of “culture wars” lobbed against Black and LGBTQ+ communities. 

Jones, Florida’s first openly gay Black lawmaker, has been a frequent critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his policies, including banning books by Black authors and African-American history considered to be too “woke” and the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law censoring LGBTQ+ identity in public classrooms.

(Left to right) Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Photo: Getty Images)

In his latest effort to combat DeSantis and his administration, Jones recently introduced a bill that would eliminate language in the State Board of Education’s school curriculum that suggests enslaved Black people benefited from slavery.

The bill, SB 344, would amend the state’s controversial education standard regarding Black history, which currently instructs students that enslaved people of African descent benefited during their captivity by developing skills and specialized trades. 

The proposal revises state law requiring that Florida school curriculum “not indicate or imply that an enslaved person benefited from slavery or the enslavement experience in any way.”

“I never thought that in my lifetime I would have to file a piece of legislation to legitimize my Blackness and to make it clear that slavery was not a benefit to the enslaved,” said Senator Jones during a recent interview with theGrio. He added, “It’s just factually incorrect.”

The proposed legislation, which was also introduced in the Florida House of Representatives by Republican Rep. Mike Beltran, also requires public schools to teach “efficiently and faithfully, using the books and materials required that meet the highest standards for professionalism and historical accuracy.”

Florida’s Black history standards are even worse than reported

Florida, led by Gov. DeSantis, is seen by many activists and political strategists as ground zero for the Republican national agenda to advance conservative right-wing Christian ideology, including eliminating diversity, equity, and inclusion in schools and courses inaccurately labeled as critical race theory. 

Despite the success in making such policies law, polling shows that a majority of Americans do not agree with bans on race and DEI and even oppose laws barring classroom teachings on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

“We are seeing across the country that culture wars don’t work. Actually, it’s a very losing issue,” said Jones. 

Pointing to the Nov. 7 off-year election losses for Republicans, the Democrat said, “We should check the results from the…general elections, adding, “Cultural wars are not popular, and the governor is seeing that.” 

Jones said DeSantis and Republicans in the state have been fixated on “interrupting” the everyday lives of Florida residents.

“They have gone on…this lineage of culture wars and things that are not making the lives of people better,” he said. 

Sen. Shevrin Jones speaks during a voting rights rally on Feb. 17, 2022, on the steps of the Historic Capitol. (Photo by © Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jones has been such a visible and vocal opponent to DeSantis and his party that he has been called by many across the state and the country to consider a run for governor in 2026. 

When asked how serious he is weighing a possible gubernatorial run in the Sunny State, the lawmaker told theGrio that he is “humbled” by the encouragement from others but is “first and foremost” focused on the upcoming 2024 elections. 

In addition to working to get President Joe Biden reelected, Jones, a member of the Biden-Harris campaign’s national advisory board, said it’s important that Democrats “build on the momentum” of the past election cycles. That includes Florida, where Jacksonville elected its first female mayor and the first Democrat in over a decade.

“We have the right message for Florida,” said Jones. “This administration is delivering across communities. We’re protecting Social Security and Medicare. We’re combating the climate crisis. We’re lowering health care costs.”

By contrast, the Biden surrogate said Florida has enacted a six-week abortion ban and is banning Black books and freedom of speech for LGBTQ+ communities.

Demonstrators hold signs during a “lie-in” demonstration supporting gun control reform near the White House on Feb. 19, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

“That’s not who we are. We are a diverse state…we can do and be better,” he asserted. 

Though Florida is seen as a red state and has been controlled by Republicans for a quarter century, Jones still believes the state is winnable for the Democratic Party in 2024.

“The Republicans have shown that they can’t govern [and]…have shown that their biggest fight is fighting ‘woke,’” said Jones, adding, “Republicans are not delivering right now. We see that nationally, and we see it right here within the state of Florida.”

Election disinformation campaigns targeted voters of color in 2020. Experts expect 2024 to be worse 

The politician said he would like to see the “broken bridge” in Florida politics be “rekindled,” where “we can bring people back together to govern again.”

Referring back to the hypothetical run for governor, Jones said, “If that is what people want, and if we can get over the finish line in 2024, maybe that is something that I will consider.” He added, “I will go as far as the people will take me.”

In the meantime, he said, “My focus is making sure that we elect Joe Biden…Florida has record numbers and that we organize, we engage, and we register people to vote in the 2024 election.”


Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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