Rosa Williams shook hands with the assembled Gainesville city and police leaders minutes before residents gathered to focus on progress in District 1 on Wednesday.
For the second year in a row, City Commissioner Gigi Simmons offered a state of the district address in front of the Gainesville’s Black on Black Crime Task Force, of which Williams is the founder. The meeting took place at Gainesville Police Department headquarters.
“I was honored to be invited,” Simmons said. “It’s extremely important to have this conversation here.”
Simmons said the venue provides a more inclusive and welcoming environment for attendees to be informed.
“It gives you a different audience, view and purpose,” the commissioner said. “Everybody can tune in to what is going on in their communities.”
District 1 is comprised of historically black neighborhoods like Porters and Pleasant Street, along with much of East Gainesville — an area of the city long fraught with economic, racial and social divides. Simmons won a runoff election in 2018 to represent the district.
Simmons invited various city department leaders to discuss the social, environmental and economic progress in the past year. Community Redevelopment Agency Director Sarah Vidal-Finn spoke about the completed infrastructure for the agency’s Heartwood housing project, which hopes to attract investments into East Gainesville.
“I wanted these departments to come out and highlight what progress we’ve made in District 1,” Simmons said.
Police Chief Tony Jones addressed crime in Duval Heights and the police department’s collaboration with local residents to enhance the area’s sense of community, including food giveaways at Greater Bethel AME Church and neighborhood cleanups.
“We continue to meet to make this community safe and enjoyable,” Jones said.
Jones then deviated from the agenda to offer a surprise to Executive Lt. Paris Owens with an announcement that led to a standing ovation from those present.
Owens, who grew up in Duval and is a task force member, will soon be promoted to captain, becoming the first black woman in the department to reach that position, Jones said.
Owens was taken aback by the announcement and the heavy applause.
“They advised me I was going to be in an acting capacity as captain,” she said, “but I definitely wasn’t expecting that.”