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The NAACP reached a breaking point in issuing a travel advisory, Hillsborough chapter president says

 A woman in a yellow shirt stands in front of a NAACP podium with press mics positioned in front of her.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough chapter of the NAACP, speaks to a crowd in 2021. Lewis said the recent legislation from Tallahassee is one of the reasons a travel advisory to the state was issued from the organization.

Hillsborough NAACP chapter president Yvette Lewis says recent legislation from Tallahassee prohibiting funding for DEI programs is what led to the advisory.

The president of the Hillsborough NAACP chapter said the organization reached a "breaking point" with some of the latest laws signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis before they issued a travel advisory for Florida on Saturday.

The notice said the state “devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

In their statement, the NAACP Board of Directors said the advisory was "in direct response to Gov. Ron DeSantis' aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs in Florida schools."

"You're talking about the African American studies course and then banning some books — all of that — and removing and erasing some of our history out of these books, because it doesn't make some people feel good," Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough chapter of the NAACP, said.

Last week, nearly one-third of the submissions for new social studies textbooks in the state were rejected by the Florida Department of Education. Many of the approved textbooks underwent some form of changes after initially being rejected, including one where references to the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s death were removed.

The statement also calls Florida "openly hostile" towards marginalized groups. The NAACP joins the League of United Latin American Citizens, Equality Florida, and the Florida Immigrant Coalition in issuing travel advisories to the state.

Tampa Bay area lawmakers quickly weighed in on the travel advisory.

Tampa mayor Jane Castor tweeted Sunday: "As Mayor of Tampa, I can absolutely assure anyone and everyone considering a visit or move to Tampa that they will be welcomed with open arms. Diversity and inclusion are central to what makes Tampa one of America's greatest and friendliest cities. That will never change, regardless of what happens in Tallahassee."

And St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch tweeted: "We are intentional with our work to make @StPeteFL a shining example of bridge-building, collaboration, Intentional Equity, and respect for all.#WeAreStPete means EVERYONE is always welcome and will be treated with dignity and respect.#InclusiveProgress."

The NAACP Florida State Conference initially proposed the travel warning to the Board of Directors in March.

At that time, Board Chairman Leon W. Russell said in a statement that “any attempt to intentionally erase or misrepresent Black History is a direct attack on the foundation of comprehensive education.”

Chairman of the Florida GOP Christian Ziegler wrote a tweet in response to Saturday's travel advisory directed at Russell, who lives in Tampa. Ziegler essentially said if Russell did not like what was happening in the state, then he could move.

Ziegler wrote: "The CHAIRMAN of the lives in Tampa, FLORIDA! True leadership is being willing to do what you ask others to do… time to step up and MOVE. If you think our state is so bad, the will help with moving costs. @NAACP @FloridaGOP"

Yvette Lewis calls statements like this contradictory.

"If you say Florida's a free state, I should be able to freely come and go as I please. But then you also have to look at the fact that I have rights, Chairman Russell has rights as well," Lewis said. "We have a right to live there."

"That statement comes from someone who, because they don't know their history, they're bound to repeat their history. And so in the year 2023, for him to stand there and look in the mirror and make a statement like that. Yeah. Unbelievable," Lewis added.

Lewis also had a message for everyone in the Florida legislature who she says knew the laws in question were not right, but chose not to speak up.

"In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, there comes a time when silence is betrayal."

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.