A better downtown Jacksonville isn't confined to the waterfront or any of the parcels of land that lie in wait of a brighter future and greater purpose. There are places nearby where a community rich in history and culture are also worthy and waiting for their new day.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan committed to an important effort that is working to renew a neighborhood whose history is rich in people and institutions which made significant contributions both in Jacksonville and throughout the nation. This week, the Khan Family and the Jaguars Foundation made a $1 million donation to LIFT JAX and its work with the Historic Eastside CDC to help push forward an initiative in Jacksonville's "Out East" neighborhood, which is arguably its most historic and culturally prominent African American community.
"I love what LIFT JAX represents, so it's my privilege to make this donation and help to set a course that I hope will have immediate and lasting impact," Khan said. "This isn't about cutting a check, however. It's about all of us making a commitment of our time and resources, continued and uninterrupted, to empower our neighbors and break the cycle of poverty. That takes work and requires accountability, and the Jaguars Foundation is more than ready to do its part."
Khan and the Jaguars have made a revitalized downtown Jacksonville a focus in recent years and while that focus has been on creating something new and different, just to the north there is a history and heritage that was working to renew itself.
T-Neisha Tate is the Jaguars Vice President of Social Responsibility and a native of Jacksonville's northside. She has a not only a deep understanding of the "Out East" neighborhood but a strong sense of how the Jaguars can help.
"Our neighbors who live "Out East" were already working with the Historic Eastside CDC to create a better community," she explained. "They just needed some assistance to take the past and bring it forward. LIFT JAX saw that they had some deeply committed volunteers who built some momentum and got involved early. We saw it also and wanted to listen, understand and help."
LIFT JAX organized in 2017 to help the Historic Eastside CDC in its efforts to meet the needs of a neighborhood that contributed mightily to the Civil Rights movement in America through native son A. Philip Randolph. The Eastside is where Bob "The Bullet" Hayes launched an athletic career which spanned the Olympics to the Dallas Cowboys and it's also where Mother Midway A.M.E. Church worked to help the citizens of the Eastside live better, more productive lives. Their vision is to give new life to an area of Jacksonville that, given the chance, they believe can rise again as an agent of change for those who call it home.
"The Historic Eastside CDC calls it "within-trification," said Tate. "Gentrification is when individuals come from outside the neighborhood but 'out east' they're working together from within the neighborhood to take it to where it can be as good and strong and important as it once was and truly as it always should have been. We know we can't prosper if our neighbors aren't also given the chance to prosper. We're going to make sure we do everything we can to make that happen."
Khan's contribution will help LIFT JAX with its mission to eradicate poverty and create better outcomes by following the same path that worked so well in revitalizing Atlanta's East Lake neighborhood. Specifically, the money will go towards a few key projects as part of the bigger picture. The funds will contribute to food security with year-round access to healthy foods and a permanent neighborhood market, to reimagine and rebuild outdoor spaces to promote community wellness, towards the promotion of local culture and businesses, and for the application process for National Historic Register designation for the Eastside neighborhood.
The contribution isn't the first effort "Out East" on the part of Khan and the Jaguars. Tate spearheaded an effort to get involved with holiday meals last December and a Day of Service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. in January. Khan's donation ensures that the partnership will continue well into the future.
"When we think about what builds a great neighborhood it is neighbors looking after each other," Tate explained. "We want to make sure that everyone, especially our neighbors, understand that this is just the beginning of the relationship. We're here to listen and where we can help we will. We realize this donation is just the beginning, it won't solve everything they need but we will be there to listen and help."
The Jaguars efforts to revitalize downtown Jacksonville can't be limited to just buildings and events. Tate and the team's leadership recognizes that creating a better, more vibrant community requires creating better opportunities for people and neighborhoods to fully participate in a more dynamic downtown.