Healing a City

By Anya Finley

In the wake of protests nationwide, demanding racial justice and equality, many places are beginning to recognize the work that needs to be done and take the necessary steps to heal their municipality, city, county or state. For some places those steps mean removing confederate statues and street-names, and for others, like my hometown Plantation, Florida, it means pushing for a name change. From an outside perspective this name likely strikes a certain cord, and not a positive one. The connotation of a Plantation has long been an estate where crops are cultivated, often by African-American slaves. From a simple google search of this term you find pictures of famous southern estates or the answer to the question “what does plantation mean in slavery?”

The question I, and many people who reside here, had, was if this name had any historical meaning for the location. Though it is known that Florida was home to slave plantations, it is unclear if the city of Plantation actually had any. But for a city with a population of 22% black or African American people, the existence of this name is quite upsetting. Living in a diverse city I feel like the current name is not representative of its population. This civil-war era name fails to represent that 22% of our population, and furthermore, continues to invoke thoughts of a far from positive time period. Other diverse cities, even those with strong Confederate roots, have worked to eradicate the constant reminder of slavery. Atlanta, Georgia, which boasts a population composed of over 50% black or African American people, recently changed a street name from “Confederate Avenue,” to “United Avenue.” Though a changing the name of a street is different from the name of a city, it is still representative of the inclusion of that diverse population. On a more personal level, the persistence of this name is upsetting as it alienates that diversity that resides in this community. 


In June of this year petitions, both to change and to keep the name, took over Facebook pages for residents of this city. Over 6,500 people in support of a name change, including myself, believe that for a city so beautiful and green, the name incites negative feelings. Though the progression towards picking a new name has slowed down, the premise is still important. Other institutions in the area with similar names have also taken steps to rebrand. One being Plantation High School, which has a mascot of a Colonel dressed in civil war era clothing. Though they have yet to shake the mascot officially, uniforms instead sport the letter “C.” 


Seeing the efforts people have gone through to push for the name change has opened my eyes to the severity of this issue. Though I have been aware of the presence of these negative names and symbols, seeing what people have done to change them has been inspiring, particularly being a younger person. While thinking about the necessary steps to make things right some ideas that came to my mind are public forums, where African-American voices in the community are given an opportunity to share how this name affects them and what they would suggest be done about it. Not only would this allow others, whose life-experience may have been far different, to see how vital this issue is, but it would also be an opportunity to ask questions to those historically marginalized groups. Additionally, I believe this issue needs to be addressed in the next local election. Through putting it on the ballot, the will of the people, which seems to be in favor of changing the name, would be expressed. As an individual, I will make my thoughts heard through signing petitions, while also reaching out to local officials, encouraging them to consider this issue. Our city cannot be a completely happy and equal place if the name has a historical connotation that is inherently negative to 22% (at least) of its population. Though it is yet to be resolved, and the name still stands for now at least, it is clear that many people of Plantation, Florida are ready to heal this city. This issue, which has made the news nation-wide, including being reported in the New York Times, shows not only the importance of addressing past issues, but solving them to help better the community. 


After-thought: When thinking about what to write for the theme of “healing,” this immediately came to mind. Healing can exist in many ways, but the way I saw it play out, is not only healing a city for the future, but also helping to acknowledge the negativity of the past, instead of embracing it. Though I cannot fully understand, it seems like hearing this name, or other words that bring back thoughts regarding slavery, would be like putting salt on an open wound. That wound cannot be healed until it has been fully addressed and fleshed out, and allowing the necessary changes to be made. Even I, as a non-minority, can see how vital this change is, and am hopeful that my community will rise to the challenge to allow itself to heal fully.