FAST – Nehemiah Action Assembly - by Seán Kinane

03/21/06


Last night at the Pasadena Community Church in Pinellas County, the group Faith and Action for Strength Together, or FAST, held their Nehemiah Action Assembly. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports.

ACT McClendon (3 sec)
“We stand FAST together for justice tonight�

That was Rev. Willie McClendon of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Largo, one of the 29 member congregations that participated in this assembly of more than one thousand people of faith. McClendon described the goal of the Nehemiah Action Assembly and the biblical origins of its name.

ACT McClendon (33sec)
“We are here tonight in pursuit of justice. We are like Nehemiah was in his day. When he heard the cry of his people, he became very angry at the condition they were living in. He decided that he needed to do something. He called a great assembly. And he called them together and they confronted the nobles and the rulers. And he was able to get justice for the poor and the needy.�

FAST is a coalition of members of various religious congregations that gets together to assess community problems, determine how to fix those problems, then directly asks community leaders whether they will make the suggested policy changes.

Last year, FAST identified two issues that needed to be addressed, pre-kindergarten education and senior transportation. Last night they provided progress reports on those two subjects. Rev. Williams of the Mt.Zion A.M.E. Church asked Janet Chapman, the Director of the Early Learning Coalition about continuing to provide a full day of pre-k and whether she would implement pre-and post-testing of these pre-kindergartners.

ACT (31 sec)
Williams - “We want to ask you tonight to continue to provide wrap-around funds for a full day of childcare for those parents that work and make less than 200% of the poverty level. Are you in agreement with that and willing to do that tonight?�
Chapman - “Yes, I am.�
Williams - “You will actively pursue for the next four months in order to do pre- and post-testing with all the children that are in your VPK [Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten] program. Would you agree to do that tonight?�
Chapman - “Yes, I do.�

Last year FAST demanded more easily accessible information for senior citizens with transportation needs. Brian Smith of the Metropolitan Planning Organization worked with FAST to create a phone number that seniors could call to arrange for transportation, a victory described by FAST’s Donna Davis, a member of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church

(ACT Davis 33 sec)
“Did you know that we have over 20,561 seniors with no vehicle available to them? … So, FAST decided to work to get a one-stop phone number. One phone number where seniors would talk with a real person, trained, to help them get better qualifications to meet their transportation needs with each agency.�

The two issues that FAST is working on this year are school discipline and affordable housing. Dona Hoyos is a teacher at Dixie Hollins High School and a member of St. Cecelia Catholic Church in Clearwater. She explains how teaching and learning would be improved if the county implements FAST’s suggestion of discipline programs that are consistent throughout an entire school.

(ACT Hoyos 30 sec)
“In five years of teaching, I have spent an average of 30% of my time dealing with discipline problems instead of doing what I’m getting paid for, to teach. I think implementing a school-wide discipline program will increase learning. I can’t change students’ behavior when all of us teachers and administrators are doing something different. We definitely need our schools to be balanced if we want discipline problems to decrease.�

Father Bob Schneider, from Espiritu Santo Catholic Church, put forward FAST’s demands regarding school-wide discipline programs to Dr. Clayton Wilcox, the Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools.

(ACT Schneider & Wilcox 28 sec)
Schneider: “Will you commit that at least 24 schools in the district will use a school-wide discipline program in the 2006-2007 school year?�
Wilcox: “Yes.�
Schneider: “I’m happy to announce tonight that Dr. Wilcox has said yes to everything we have asked for. A new day is arriving in Pinellas County School District for the learning of our students. And the days of unruly kids controlling our schools will only be a thing of the past.�

FAST is concerned that the county’s affordable housing program will not benefit the people who can least afford housing, as Rev. Glad McCurtain from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Clearwater explains.

(ACT McCurtain 19 sec)
“Our big question for them is: ‘housing affordable for whom?’ Their plan allows affordable housing money be spent for people earning up to 120% of the median income which is $60,000 for a family of four.�

In order to improve the plan, FAST is proposing an amendment that targets Housing Trust Fund resources on families that need it most.

A letter from Commissioner Kenneth T. Welch, who could not attend, was read in which he agreed to all of FAST’s suggestions. Commissioner John Morroni did not appear.

Father John Tapp of Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, asked the other five members of the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners if they would agree to support FAST’s demands.

(ACT 37 sec)
“Regarding affordable housing, will you work for and support insuring that housing trust fund revenues are spent fairly and equitably to meet the needs of each income level based on the Needs Assessment and Annual Program expenditure reviews?
Commissioner Harris? Yes
Commissioner Seel? Yes
Commissioner Stewart? Yes
Commissioner Duncan? Yes
Commissioner Latvala? Yes, I will.
Terrific!�

The Commissioners also said they would meet FAST’s other demands regarding affordable housing such as requiring that rental units assisted with Housing Trust Fund dollars remain affordable for at least 30 years. Again, all Commissioners agreed with the exception of John Morroni who did not attend.

Organizers considered the Nehemiah Action Assembly a complete success, as Rev. Sherman from Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Clearwater, illustrates.

(ACT Sherman 20 sec)
“We came together as a powerful voice in Pinellas County. With one objective: to stand up for what is right and just in our community. And the good news is that everything we asked for, we got it in the affirmative.�

If you are a senior in need of transportation, call the Senior Helpline at 727-217-8111 in Pinellas or 800-861-8111 in Pasco. For information about FAST, call 727-345-3300.

For WMNF News, reporting from St. Petersburg, I’m Seán Kinane.

FMI:

Senior Helpline 727-217-8111 in Pinellas
Senior Helpline 800-861-8111 in Pasco

FAST, Faith and Action for Strength Together 727-345-3300.

SPTimes coverage
http://www.sptimes.com/2006/03/21/Southpinellas/Faithful_rally_for_so.shtml

Pinellas Board of County Commissioners
http://www.pinellascounty.org/commission/default.htm

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