Is Jacksonville a Place that Young Black Professionals Can Thrive?

Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood
Reggie Fullwood

As I sat in one of Jacksonville’s newest downtown jazz spots, Breezy, for brunch with a young man that I have mentored since middle school, we talked about a number of topics centering on politics and career opportunities.

Now a graduate of FAMU with a degree in business administration, he was weighing his options for employment and ultimately where he wants to live as a young professional. He lives in an apartment downtown so he actually walked to the jazz club/restaurant.

He is considering cities that wouldn’t surprise anyone – Atlanta, Houston, Austin, Charlotte, and Washington DC. These are cities that have a good balance of professional opportunities and cultural diversity, hence young African American professionals have done well.

Good job opportunities are important to millennials, but cities that have a strong social and cultural infrastructure are almost as important. Who wants a great job, but boring life outside of work?

This is a topic that interest most blacks. Is Jacksonville a good city for young African Americans to grow and do well? Most homegrown blacks would say no, but let’s go beyond a simple “no” and delve into the question of why and what it would take to keep young educated blacks here.

Over the next four weeks I will look at this topic from a number of different perspectives. We will explore downtown development or lack of development, the Jacksonville job market, cultural activities and night life, and the overall black experience in Northeast Florida.

Let me pause for a moment. Rest in peace to one of the most outspoken comedians and activist of our time Dick Gregory. Speaking of black culture, Gregory once said, “Blackness is no longer a color; it is an attitude.”

It is that attitude of experience and opportunities to have social interaction and plain old fun that young professionals are looking for. That work hard, play hard mentality is prevalent among millennials.

Here is an interesting fact – back in May of 2007, Black Enterprise Magazine featured its “Top 10 Cities for Blacks to Work, Live and Play.” Some of you may remember that Jacksonville, Florida actually made the list at number 10.

Yes, that’s right, the city “Where Florida Begins” made the ten spot, and of course most of us black folk were really surprised.

Jacksonville has always had a large black middle class. Clearly the city is no Atlanta, DC or Houston, but if you simply look at the numbers then you have a better appreciation of the city’s diversity.

There are many blacks that are business owners and many hold key governmental and private sector positions. I would venture to guess that if you simply started a list of blacks that are at a senior management level or higher with their prospective organizations, that list would be significant.

Although the Black Enterprise data is ten years old, it did reveal that there were nearly 7,000 black-owned businesses in Northeast Florida, versus the national average per metropolitan area of 3,263. That fact clearly shows that blacks in Jacksonville have an entrepreneurial spirit.

That is a fact that young professionals should consider, but again there is so much more to making a city more attractive to recent college graduates.
The Black Enterprise survey focused on the opportunities available for middle and upper-middle class blacks, and those who have a high school or college education. For each city, there were the same 24 criteria considered, but emphasis was placed on the following key criteria: Black unemployment rate; Percentage of black-owned businesses; Black median household income compared with overall median household income; Rate of black home owners; Percentage of black-owned households earning more than $100,000; Percentage of black college grads and percentage of home loan rejections for blacks.

These are all fair criteria, but none of them deal with the overall culture and vibe of a city.

Some cities like Seattle that once had a very small black population are starting to see growth in the number of young black professionals through relocations because it is seen as a “hip” city with growing opportunities.

Mariah Thompson wrote an article last year for Bauce magazine titled, “7 Best Cities for Young Black Professionals.” This is what she said, “Young black professionals need to settle in cities that inspire their work and provide them with the opportunities they need to thrive.”

She used criteria like average salary, millennial appeal, diversity, black population, and the strength of the job market to create her list. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the following cities made the cut: New York, NY, Washington, DC, Atlanta, GA, Houston, TX, Dallas, TX, Seattle, WA and Oakland, CA.

The question is can Jacksonville ever truly make that list? Please join me as we will explore that question and a few others as I talk to millennials and others about how to make Northeast Florida for attractive to young black professionals.
Signing off from Breezy in Downtown,

Reggie Fullwood

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