Magic owners must do more to support Parramore and its Black residents

Commentary

ORLANDO SENTINEL – By JEREMY LEVITT
GUEST COLUMNIST | SEP 02, 2020

Is the NBA in the bubble or the City of Orlando?

Who are the real bubbleheads, racial-justice-oriented NBA players or apathetic corporate leaders who have systemically failed to support racial justice work?

Don’t systemic racism and deadly police violence interfere with and stagnate Christian morality, free enterprise and innovation? How many Black geniuses has society lost to systemic racism?

The Amway Center, the usual home of the Orlando Magic, is in Parramore, one of the poorest areas in the country. Besides a hot plate of regentrification, what palatable meal have the Orlando Magic and its owners, the DeVos family, served Parramore? They profit immensely from black bodies, whether they come in the form of professional athletes or black “independent business owners” that bought into the multi-level marketing model of business exemplified by Amway, which the DeVos family also owns.

Orlando Magic chairman Dan DeVos talks about the awards at the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation ceremony at Amway Center in January. Over the past 30 years, more than $25 million has been distributed to 500 local, nonprofit community organizations by the OMYF, but guest columnist Jeremy Levitt says the DeVos family hasn’t done enough to help its Black neighbors in Parramore. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

Over the years the DeVos family has engaged in mega-philanthropy, donating over $1.4 billion to a variety of conservative and Christian-oriented institutions and causes including the Republican Party, the Heritage Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.

However, comparatively, they have given very little to Parramore, African American led organizations, Black Christians, Black Americans generally, nor to my knowledge supported racial equity, equality and justice initiatives. That said, the DeVos family has supported at-risk youth of every race through the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation.

On Aug. 26, the Orlando Magic and the DeVos family issued the following
statement: “Today we stand united with the NBA Office, the National Basketball Players Association, the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the league condemning bigotry, racial injustice and the unwarranted use of violence by police against people of color.”

Really, since when? What has the DeVos family fortune, including the Orlando Magic, done to empower the “people of color” in Parramore, and why in benevolent public statements do predominantly white-led organizations always lump nonwhite persons together who have nothing in common except refined melatonin?

If the DeVos family truly cares about bigotry, racial injustice and excessive uses of force against Black Americans, why have they been virtually silent about these issues in the very community in which the Orlando Magic thrives, Parramore? Why haven’t they offered any viable strategy to empower Black people and businesses in Parramore and beyond? Fighting anti-Black bigotry, racism and police misconduct demands action, not charitable uttering; it mandates supporting change and change
leaders.

African Americans are a people that have origins in the Black racial groups of Africa. Our histories, cultures, experiences and struggles in this country are entirely distinct from any other group. Hence, solutions to anti-Black racism necessitate divergent strategies that so-called diversity and inclusion experts are ill-equipped to manage.

Are we willing to make the sacrifices and investments necessary to bring about authentic racial equity, equality and justice? No more Uncle Toms! No more tokens! No more divide-and-conquer schemes!

Not unlike the DeVos family-backed Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, the majority of Black people also want a “free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” Sounds like the Black church to me.

Nevertheless, the DeVos family has not meaningfully supported African American Christians or institutions responsible for nurturing the professional athletes from whom they immensely profit. The Orlando Magic and other stakeholders promised to revitalize Parramore — but for whom? The Parramore Heritage Neighborhood and the Creative Village complex are detached from the everyday lived existence of Black Orlandoans. The people of Parramore are disproportionately poor and I don’t understand why there are more shotgun houses and arrests than employment and enrichment opportunities.

How many corporate leaders in Orlando have taken concrete and sustainable action to combat racial injustice? The shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police officer Rusten Sheskey shocked the nation. Yet the city seems indifferent about the killing of Salaythis Melvin at Florida Mall.

The succinct NBA boycott led by the Milwaukee Bucks and supported by professional athletes across the sporting world pinpricked the bubble, but it’s not clear how many bubbleheads in corporate Orlando felt it. We thought the murder of George Floyd brought about a new form of corporate wokeness, but corporate Orlando has a short memory. Are NBA players right, will it take a national boycott of this city and others to bring about authentic change? Black Jesus, pray for us!

Jeremy Levitt is the president of the Stono Institute for Freedom, Justice and Security. He is a member of the Central Florida 100.