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‘We’re sorry’: After member called Gov. DeSantis racist, Miami board leader apologizes

Days after a member of Miami-Dade County’s Black Affairs board called Gov. Ron DeSantis “racist,” the leader of that volunteer panel apologized for the comment and said it did not reflect consensus.

“Words matter,” Pierre Rutledge, chair of the Black Affairs Advisory Board, said at the start of a Friday press conference.

“As chair, I must start by saying we want to pull that back,” said Rutledge, an administrator in Miami-Dade’s school system. “There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘We’re sorry.’ That’s not what we intended to say or be depicted by anyone. And that’s not the feeling of this board.”

READ MORE: Miami Black Affairs board vows to fight DeSantis. One member: ‘Our governor is racist’

The statement, with nine fellow members behind him, was in response to Miami lawyer Stephen Hunter Johnson saying, “Our governor is racist,” at a Wednesday board meeting about the governor’s blocking an African-American studies course.

Johnson’s comments drew no objections at the time. After he made them, board members unanimously voted to have him and another member draft a letter to DeSantis objecting to the governor’s position on the Advanced Placement course.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava speaks during the unveiling of ‘Black Resistance: Miami Dade County’ exhibit during Black History Month kickoff at the Stephen P. Clark Center in Miami on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava speaks during the unveiling of ‘Black Resistance: Miami Dade County’ exhibit during Black History Month kickoff at the Stephen P. Clark Center in Miami on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

Rutledge’s press conference was called to release the final version of the letter to the media. It did not criticize DeSantis directly but stated the board was “saddened to see the State of Florida raise objection to the College Board’s AP African American Studies submission.”

The press conference followed Miami-Dade’s debut of a lobby exhibit at the Stephen P. Clark Center dedicated to Black History Month, which began Feb. 1. Sponsored by the Black Affairs board, it centers on national organizers’ theme of “Black Resistance” and highlights notable moments in the fight for civil rights and racial equity in Miami.

Daniella Levine Cava, the county’s mayor, said she would make sure Miami-Dade continues as “a place where everyone can enjoy educational freedom and take pride in their history.”

Stephen Hunter Johnson addresses fellow members of Miami-Dade County’s Black Affairs Advisory Board on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.
Stephen Hunter Johnson addresses fellow members of Miami-Dade County’s Black Affairs Advisory Board on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

Johnson attended the county event but left ahead of the board press conference. The draft letter he submitted to board staff Wednesday night stated “we find that your administration has engaged in overt racism and anti-Blackness, for purely political purposes,” according to a copy he provided the Herald.

In an interview after the press conference, Johnson said he was clear ahead of the vote that he intended to bluntly criticize DeSantis in the letter and stood by his original remarks. He said he was sad to see the board back down from the confrontation.

“The Black community has been far too polite for far too long in the face of overt racism,” he said. “And it is our obligation to call it out when we see it and are confronted with it.”