The votes are in. The winners are announced. We now know the best of the best in our beloved 904. These people are making Jacksonville a better place. But this list represents a small sampling of local movers and shakers. For your consideration, I’ve got two more names. Use them at next year’s polls, or reach out and get involved. Even if you just want excellent conversation over a beer, this is a good place to start.
Enter Suzanne Pickett. A native of Northeast Florida, she recognized a lack of diversity in the local art scene. So, she began her story of connecting artists with their surrounding neighborhoods. In 2004, she founded the Jacksonville Consortium of African-American Artist (JCAAA), a non-profit dedicated to helping local artists thrive. In 2006, she helped cofound the Art Center Cooperative, another non-profit that creates space and opportunities for emerging and professional artists.
Residing in Springfield, she continued to develop JCAAA’s member base. But with the 2008 financial crisis, funding for the arts dried up. However, Suzanne saw the unique ways other cities were combining community development and art using The Recovery Act of 2009. Seizing this opportunity, she led the restructuring of JCAAA into the Jacksonville Cultural Development Corporation (JCDC).
Today, JCDC is bringing creative placemaking to the Eastside, an oft-forgotten neighborhood. This strategy engages creatives and culture-makers with surrounding communities to foster renewal and growth.
Suzanne oversees a new cultural center located in the Union 700 Warehouse. Through community classes, they teach “residents about their natural talents [and] how to make money through creative careers.” She wants to see this development style spill into other neighborhoods. For her, it’s another step in shaping Jacksonville as a world-class city for arts and culture.
In order for Jacksonville to be great, we need more folks like Suzanne and Adonnica — people in love with their town and its potential.
Not too far across town, there is another individual with a similar mission. Adonnica Toler is the Museum Administrator of the Ritz Theatre and Museum. Most people drive by on their way to I95, never realizing the historical gem’s presence. It’s a treasure that Adonnica is working hard to share.
A history major and native of Jacksonville, Adonnica loved stories of days past. She was also always drawn to the 1929 Ritz Theater movie house. In 1999, when the new museum was built on that site, she was there. Involved from the beginning, she strives to preserve history and bring local awareness to important individuals from our city’s past.
For example, little is mentioned about A. Philip Randolph, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement who grew up here. Or Eartha White, a humanitarian and philanthropist born here, and Augusta Savage, a sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance. She was born in nearby Green Cove Springs. But closest to Adonnica’s heart and the mission of the Ritz is the story of James Weldon Johnson. Along with his brother, he penned the famous song “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” He was born in Jacksonville, but most associate him with New York City as he and many other African-Americans left the South in the early half of the 20th century.
It’s a tale that Adonnica wants to spread … and change. By highlighting the culturally rich history of Jacksonville and bringing awareness to the diverse talent here today, she hopes to see more folks choose to stay in this city. Through collaboration with other cultural organizations, excellent programming and community events, she is working to establish the Ritz as a nationally recognized cultural institution.
These two see not only what can be number one in the 904, but the 904 as number one itself. In order for Jacksonville to be great, we need more folks like Suzanne and Adonnica — people in love with their town and its potential. We propose a toast to these two. Cheers!