Bracy Davis introduces bill that would let Ocoee Scholarship funds be used at out-of-state universities
Wednesday, March 15, 2023
If Bracy Davis's bill passes, eligible Ocoee students would be able to use scholarship funds to attend out-of-state schools, like Fisk University, pictured here, an HBCU in Nashville.
Last week, two Democratic Orange County lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at providing scholarships for African-American college students and financial assistance to Black businesses. They are attempts to address two racially motivated atrocities of the past.
HB 231, filed by Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, of Ocoee, will codify the Randolph Bracy Ocoee Scholarship Program that was established by the state legislature in 2021. The program was spearheaded by and named for her brother, former state Sen. Randolph Bracy, who had unsuccessfully tried to get reparations for descendants of the victims of the 1920 Ocoee Massacre. Initially, he tried to get the scholarship established through legislation, which died in committee. He then hammered out a deal with Republican leadership at the time to add funding for the awards through the state budget.
The scholarship provides financial assistance up to $6,100 annually for in-state tuition and registration fees to 50 eligible students who are either direct descendants of the massacre’s victims or African-American students living in Ocoee. Bracy secured $305,000 in state funds for the scholarships, which are secured in a trust fund and administered by the state Department of Education. HB 231 would expand the scholarship’s flexibility by allowing students to use money for out-of-state schools, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), like Fisk University in Nashville, Morehouse University and Spelman College in Atlanta, Paul Quinn College in Dallas and Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“I think if there's a descendant of the Ocoee Massacre or a student that would want to go out of state, they should have the opportunity to get access to the scholarship money,” Bracy Davis, who attended Howard University, said at a recent Pine Hills public meeting. “I would hope that my colleagues would get behind it because I think it's a very important piece of legislation.
HB 231 would also establish a Black business program with the state Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) overseeing certification of entities — located in areas that were directly impacted by the 1920 Ocoee riots — seeking loans, loan guarantees and investments.
Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson is sponsoring companion legislation (SB 1042) in the Senate.
Thompson also filed SB 900, which would create a scholarship fund, modeled after Ocoee's, in the name of the Groveland Four – Charles L. Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas — who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949.
According to the bill, direct descendants of the victims of that atrocity as well as current African-American residents of Groveland would be eligible for scholarships of up to $6,100 for undergraduate study at Florida universities, colleges or career centers. Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss of Homestead is sponsoring companion legislation (HB 463) in the House.
For more than seven years, Thompson diligently worked to posthumously exonerate the four men, who were given pardons by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019 and then exonerated by Judge Heidi Davis two years later.
Similar to HB 231, the bill will require the DEO to prioritize loan applications for Black businesses in the areas that were impacted by the Groveland Four injustice. Last year, Thompson filed a similar bill, HB 1133, which died in committee.