Faye Williams left Gainesville 30 years ago before the colors of brick-and-mortar storefronts dotting South Main Street began to fade. White dust from construction had yet to collect in the gutters of Depot Avenue. Her neighborhood, the Porters Community, was still untouched by the University of Florida’s gentrifying forces.
Williams, a Gainesville native and social justice activist, returned to Gainesville to find that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite the new parks and coffee shops, economic forces were still excluding Gainesville’s black community.
“It’s really clear that there are no Black businesses on Main Street,” Williams said. “Something is wrong with that.”
In response, Williams decided to create M.A.M.A.’s, a community center for those Gainesville has historically displaced. Its name doubles as its mission statement. Each letter stands for a principle Williams aims to cultivate: music, art, movement, action.
The space will offer programming that reflects its mission statement. Once it’s fully operational, M.A.M.A.’s will have live music, art exhibits, dance classes and teach-ins. Its ultimate goal is to bring together anyone who has felt marginalized in Gainesville through art and to teach them advocacy and organizing.
“My hope is that we can have people come from the southern and eastern parts of Gainesville to see a film and have a discussion,” Williams said. “We’re going to teach parents how to organize, go to the school board with their concerns and ask important questions.”
Once it raises enough funds, M.A.M.A.s will open in the space next to the Civic Media Center, across from the entrance to Porters. But fundraising has proven difficult; an online petition was launched in late December 2016. As of press time the club has only raised $3,285 of their $50,000 goal.
Hazel Levy, a community activist and musician, said it’s not guaranteed M.A.M.A.’s will open. She said the primary obstacle to opening M.A.M.A.’s is the legacy of gentrification in Gainesville, which excludes black residents from owning businesses and a fair share of the wealth.
“We never had support from the city or state. But we always move forward; that’s part of our history. It’s an obstacle, but that’s not gonna stop us.”
“This legacy is perpetuated through the exclusion of local black women from the ‘insider’s club’ alliance between the developers, the chamber of commerce, the realtors and the city’s elected decision-makers whose development plans cause the economic instability of the nearby black neighborhoods,” Levy said.
She points out that of the 48 board members on Gainesville’s Chamber of Commerce, only three are people of color, and none are women of color.
“The result is that black-woman ownership of business is so rarely accomplished in Downtown Gainesville,” Levy said. “Overcoming this is no easy task. It takes a village, and luckily Faye is gifted at community building.”
“I want it to be open to everyone and I want it to be inclusive,” Williams said. “I want the people on the outside to feel empowered to come in.”
Despite everything, she’s optimistic M.A.M.A.’s will become a force for good in the community.
“We never had money,” she said. “We never had support from the city or state. But we always move forward; that’s part of our history. It’s an obstacle, but that’s not gonna stop us.” •