City of Orlando Commissioner for District 6, The Honorable Bakari F. Burns spoke on the history of healthcare for black people in Orlando and politics at the Orlando Remembered meeting on February 19, 2020, Black History Month, at the Orange County Regional History Center.
We invite you to listen to this engaging presentation from Orlando’s new leadership voice: The Honorable Bakari F. Burns. Listen. (11:35)
I’m honored to have been recently elected as the new City Commissioner for District 6. So I’ve been in that job for about a month and six days. So, I’m enjoying that. This morning I want to talk about the history of access to healthcare for black people in Orlando and then talk a little bit about politics.
In 1907 Dr. Jerry B. Callahan was the only black or Negro physician in Orlando. Other physicians followed Dr. Callahan’s footsteps in providing healthcare services to the black and Negro people in Orlando such as Dr. William Monroe Wells, Dr. I. Sylvester Hankins, Dr. James R. Smith, and Dr. George P. Shank, Jr. just to name a few. During their time in practice, they were generally not allowed to practice medicine at the Orange General Hospital known today as Orlando Health. When allowed, black women that gave birth had to deliver their babies in the basement of Orange General in the colored ward next to the boiler room and the tuberculosis ward.
In 1959, Dr. P. Phillips summoned the construction of the Dr. P. Phillips Hospital for the Coloreds initially to care for his workers in the orange groves. But the hospital eventually became a place where blacks could receive much needed medical, surgical, and obstetrical care.
I mention this history of access to healthcare services for blacks in Orlando because while times have changed, medical advancements have been made, but there are still members of the community who experience hurdles when accessing healthcare services. Only not just a matter of race, it is more a matter of economics.
In 2003, at the age of 29, I was reelected to serve as the president and CEO of the Health Care Center for the Homeless. And at that time we had a staff of 23 employees, a budget of about 1.9 million dollars, and we served 3,000 to 3,500 patients annually. Today, we’ve been blessed, the Lord has really blessed us, we have a staff now of over 150, a budget of 15 million dollars and in 2019 we cared for over 20,000 of our uninsured, underinsured community members in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.
So now let’s talk politics. In 1972, Arthur Pappy Kennedy was elected to the City of Orlando Commission and became the first African-American elected to public office in Central Florida. In 1980, the City of Orlando moved to single- member districts and Ernest Page Senior, my uncle, defeated Arthur Pappy Kennedy to become the City Commissioner for District 6. And Napoleon “Nap” Ford was also elected as City Commissioner for District 5.
Page and Ford became the first African Americans to be elected in the City Council under the single-member district process. My uncle, Ernest Page Senior was removed from office in 1984 and Mable Butler was elected to City Council to replace Page and became the first African American woman to serve as City Commissioner. Ms Butler was later elected to the Orange County Commission becoming the first African American female to hold a county seat.
Ernest Page Senior later ran for City Commissioner of District 6 in the late 1990’s and served as Mayor of the City of Orlando in 2005 for 40 days. And became the first black person to serve as mayor of the City of Orlando.
I personally am the proud son of Barbara Page Burns who taught mathematics at Jones High School for over 29 years. I stand here before you proud to say that I’m a true product of the City of Orlando in District 6. It was in District 6 where I was educated attending Eccleston Elementary, Carver Junior High, Memorial Middle School, and graduated with honors from the mighty Jones High School.
It was in District 6 where I experienced firsthand the power of community connectedness and began to understand that it truly takes a village to raise a child. It was here in the City of Orlando that the Walt Disney Company invested in me and awarded me a full scholarship to attend any public state university in Florida and I chose Florida A & M University where I studied Healthcare Management and received a Masters of Public Health degree. In 2007 I was selected to receive the Martin Bell Scholarship to pursue a Masters in Business Administration from the great Crummer School at Rollins College.
I have been fortunate throughout my years to receive several scholarships. I often tell people, I received an undergrad, two masters degrees, and only had to pay for one class. And I had to pay for, when I was doing a Masters in Public Health, I had to pay for, I believe I received a “C”, and they didn’t pay for “C’s” so I had to pay for that class.
But with me accepting all of those scholarships, it was like me signing a promissory note to my community that I would give back. I would invest my talents and skills in the initiatives that were designed to improve my community and quality of life for all who live there. So I stand here proud to say that I stand on the shoulders of the Orlando legends that I just mentioned and it’s a pleasure to be here and it’s a pleasure to serve….
Q&A with Commissioner Bakari H. Burns at Orlando Remembered. Commissioner Burns is the CEO of Orange Blossom Family Health. He discusses the health and economic benefits of successful initiatives such as Housing First in the Q&A portion. Listen. (18:05).
Oral History Presenter: The Honorable Bakari F. Burns, City of Orlando Commissioner District 6
History Recorded by: Jane Tracy, Orlando Remembered President
Date: February 19, 2020
Place: Orange County Regional History Center