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City of Orlando Director of Urban Development Walter G. Hawkins Presents at Orlando Remembered for Black History Month, February 2023

Walter G. Hawkins is the Director of Urban Development for the City of Orlando Community Redevelopment Agency. He has served the City of Orlando for almost 30 years. He is responsible for overseeing the revitalization of the Parramore District and served as Chair of the Luminary Green Selection Panel at Creative Village. Mr. Hawkins worked as Special Assistant to Mayor Glenda E. Hood from 1992-2001. In 2001 Mayor Hood selected Mr. Hawkins as Director of the City of Orlando Community Youth and Service Department. His volunteer leadership contributions to Central Florida include serving as Chairman of the Board for BETA Center Board of Directors, Central Florida March of Dimes, City of Orlando Minority/Women Entrepreneur Business Assistance Advisory Board, Jones High School Historical Society (President), Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church Trustee Ministry, Orange County Sheriff`s Citizen Advisory Committee, Professional Opportunities Program for Students, Inc., Senior’s First Foundation, and more. Mr. Hawkins is a graduate of Jones High School, Savannah State University, and St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida. Walter G. Hawkins is a recipient of the Dr. Frist Humanitarian Award from West Lake Hospital in Longwood, Florida.

We welcome you to listen to the leadership voice of Walter Hawkins!

Listen: (41:10)

I’m going to talk about from my perspective of Orlando as a village. Because as a village you had everything in one area and you kind of worked together. And you had everybody watching out for each other. And there was various leadership roles where you either had the church, you had your school, you had your family, you had all of that. And that really helped set the foundation for Walter Hawkins is having that foundation of those perspectives… excerpt from the Black History Month 2023 Orlando Remembered Presentation by Walter G. Hawkins, Director of Urban Development for the City of Orlando on February 15, 2023.

My Mother as a Role Model

And I go back to one of my major role models and that’s my mom. My mother that was very instrumental in directing my life. She was praying all the time for me. Because you know we all have gone down the road sometimes but she was able to bring me in. But my mom is truly my inspiration. I was not originally born here in Orlando. My mom brought me here when I was age two. So I feel like I’m an original here, a native after being here for this period of time. So I am just in debt to her. My mom has, one of those persons that you would say did not have a high school record as far as accelerating in school and going and graduating. Her highest grade in school was seventh grade. But she had a college education just from her experience. My stepfather was the same way. He had an eighth grade education. But that did not stop them from passing on those attributes, those major things that helped me to be successful in the world.

Gary’s Duck Inn

I brought this picture because you all are going to remember this. But my mom’s first job in Orlando was at Gary’s Duck Inn. She worked there as a dishwasher. And so my mom is always just appreciative of having that job coming to Orlando. And I know many of you have probably eaten at Gary’s Duck Inn, you know during this time. But I just wanted to share that with you as one great example of our community that I really appreciate.

Gary’s Duck Inn Restaurant

Holden Street Elementary School

Another example that I want to share with you, I went to a school called Holden Street Elementary School. Now it is where the Orlando Police Headquarters is. But that was the foundation for my education from first grade through sixth grade. And I have a picture of that I want to share with you all as well of the great school.

Holden Street Elementary School 

Everybody was there guiding you through this whole process.

Because as I talk about the village, your teachers were from the community. Your preachers were from the community. Everybody was there guiding you through this whole process. So if you found yourself getting in trouble, somebody knew your mom and dad. And they would spank your tail, too. You know, you didn’t have to wait until you got home, and then you got another spanking when you got home. So the first one you got out in the street. So that made me kind of be on my p’s and q’s because I didn’t want to get a double whipping. You know, one out in the streets there, but then also knowing if I came home that eventually I ‘d get one at home. 

Parramore District Schools

But at Jones, teachers were from the community. So your first grade teacher through your sixth grade teacher, everybody knew each other in the community. So, you know, you had to be on the mark. You had to do that homework all the time. Because somebody would be able to knock on your door and say, “Walter didn’t do his homework in his math class or such and such.” But that was a good foundation to let me know that I needed to be on target with that. So Holden Street Elementary School was wonderful. It closed early 70’s, I believe, and as well as Callahan Elementary School. But those were the two elementary schools that were in the Parramore District during that period of time. Jones had actually started at Callahan then it moved out to Rio Grande School. And from there I graduated from, at least moved up to seventh grade at Jones High School. 

Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church 

But another foundation was Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church. And the church was always a foundation for me. I went to Sunday School. I went to Vacation Bible School. In fact, that’s how I spent my summers going to various vacation Bible schools. Because during the daytime you’d get punch and cookies and you’d get all of these other things. You got an education. But the foundation of the church was always part of my building as well. So Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church and as Jane mentioned, I’ve been a member since I was eight years old. And I’m not up in age, I’m 70 years. I’ll be 70 in July. So I’ve been a member since I was eight years old. So the foundation from the Usher Ministry to the Trustee Ministry, you name it. Every ministry was part of my foundation. Because I felt that the Church, God was very important and I need to make sure that I had those elements in my life. So, again I really appreciate that part of the village. 

Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church

Jones High School

And then my final show and tell for you guys is Jones High School which some of you know it when it was at Callahan Elementary and then it moved to the present site on Rio Grande. That’s the original site where it was focused in on facing OBT. Now the entrance is off Rio Grande. So I wanted you all to see that. Again, that was part of the village that was a key ingredient.

Jones High School

Respect From the Community

Throughout my years of moving from job to job, the one thing that has always stayed with me is that the roots that I started out with is what would I would do all the time. In every one of my jobs I would always incorporate those foundations, those values, those things that were helpful. And, Miss Gracie [Grace Chewning] knows that when I was doing a lot of things in the community, people knew me from the community. So there was a lot of respect. Whereas, with somebody going there for the first time, didn’t have a relationship, it would be real difficult. So, by me making that transition, by working throughout the system, it helped me to make the transition in my future employment.

Jones High School Football Star

I also called myself a football star at Jones High School. And from there I had an athletic scholarship to Savannah State University. And then I got another push to say, you need to get a Master’s to really have some credibility in the community. So I went down to Saint Thomas University and got an Administration Master’s degree.

Community and Family

And so, my job has been, really, off and on has been really tremendous in this community. I don’t feel like, you know, that I’m such an individual that no one can approach me. I’m very approachable. I love to just hangout with people and be a part of it. I’m married and I have three children, one boy and two girls. And the one great thing about them, and all of them have gotten their college degrees and they’re out of my pocket. So they got their own places. They got their own money. So, you know, we’ve truly been blessed by all of that.

Q & A with Orlando Remembered and Walter G. Hawkins

So I’m just really appreciative of the opportunity. I didn’t want to got into detail because like I said, we got a small group. But what I want to do is open it up if you have any questions or comments you want to shoot at me feel free to do that….

Do you still have the museum at Jones High School and is it open to the public?

Yes. You would have to schedule an appointment….

What are some of your ideas on the violence that we have nowadays with the shootings in schools? How do we best address this? It’s just devastating.

You know that is one of the hardest things to kind of give you a road map on, but my first thing is that we need more love in this world. L-O-V-E. That’s where we need to start. And being able to come together as a community, to let people know that we’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior. We don’t see communities in my eyes coming together and walking together arm and arm. Or discussing it until there’s a death and that’s what sometimes triggers emotions or trigger things to happen. You know, I don’t like to react like that….

Working Together

But I truly believe we need more love. We need more leadership on various levels to come together. And it can’t be just law enforcement. We as citizens. We as neighbors. We as families. Have to come together. We as students that are in this community. Everybody working together with a common goal and that is to address the violence and working together. You know, we got the issue of racism. We got the issues of this and that. But there’s a common thread out there and we just need to find that common thread. What that is and come together.

Faith-Based Communities

You know, sometimes I question where are the faith based community. Why are faith based leaders are not stepping out and saying, “Hey, we’re going to come together.” The Methodists, the Presbyterian, all these folks walking together. Young people. We’re walking together. And we’re not going to tolerate this kind of behavior. You can’t just put it on law enforcement.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement in a bind right now because they got the cameras they have on them now. And every time there’s an incident, automatically the cameras come on. Sometimes it’s a good thing that they do come on, but, I think, sometimes they’re afraid to react based on it’s going to be taped. It’s going to be based on such and such. So people are not as gung ho to go out there. Miss Gracie knows this, we got cameras almost on every corner. And then, we as people, we got this thing [cell phone] so we’re across the street videotaping, too, and everything.

We need more love in this world…

So it’s all of these things that, the dynamics together, but I think that love is to me, the common thing that we need to be about embracing each other. Embracing, coming together. You know, whether you’re African American or you’re Caucasian or you’re Hispanic, this or that. But we need more love in this world. Truly, I’m not a preacher, but I just think love is the answer. God has given us the opportunity. You know, we wake up, we’re here today. What can we do? How can we make a difference? 

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the building of I-4 through Orlando and how that impacted the westside and the eastside.

Well, let me mention one thing before I get to that because that’s a very good topic there. People are focusing on the Division Street, Division Avenue… that wasn’t the dividing line in our community. People need to understand that. I grew up on Division Street. When I was two years old that’s where I first landed. My mom brought us in 628 Division Avenue. That was no division. That was a busy thoroughfare. We had a lot of individuals owned their stores, owned their homes, rented their homes. You name it, it was a community that was in play. But for some reason just the division word, name, is what people want to focus in on. And, you know, if you had to look at something it may be near the railroad tracks as some would call a division of the community.

“I walked through Orlando and I had no fears.”

But as a kid, and I know we went through changes of, you know, we had integration and segregation, but as a kid I walked through Orlando and I had no fears. I had no issues. You know I could go when they had Sears and Roebuck, you know, Penneys, all of those things that were downtown. I had no fears that I was going to be hurt in any way. You know, it was things that we had when we had the colored bathrooms and whites and all of that. That is a part of history that we have to own. But we got to move on. We can’t get stuck in those kind of situations.

Housing on Division

But to me those types of things, going back to your question on I-4, where I-4 came through is actually where when I came to Orlando is where we were housed on Division. And it went through, it tore up the community now. I’m one to say that was a major fault of Orlando, Central Florida to have that as well as the 408 because you have so much displacement of the African American community. And with that there had to be movement to go find other locations.

Urban Renewal

There was a thing called Urban Renewal. Urban Renewal happened across the United States, it happened in the world. And that was an opportunity for people to move west and that’s what you have today, a lot of movement to the west. People moving to the suburbs and that was everybody. They didn’t want to deal with the intercity anymore. Let’s go out to the suburbs. And that’s when you’re starting to see the migration and then the integration of the community.

First High School Class at Jones High School

My high school class at Jones was the first high school school class, the first class to actually have white students in it. And, you know, we always show the flipside of things in showing African American students going to a white school. Now you have white kids coming to a black school. How was that transition? That was a difficult transition. Because those kids had to be bused in. They went through the same thing that our kids went through when they went to a white school. So that did not- you know. But people don’t talk about that. But I just want to share with you all those are some things that happened at our school that I’m not happy about when we had that. But it was good when everybody graduated.

School Integration

We had, and it was the first year, I think, Sylvester Gates talked about this. And probably Mayor Demings talked about at Jones, they did transition the teachers, African American teachers, to white schools. They put their names in a fish bowl and they pulled the name out of the fishbowl to what schools they were going to be assigned. Because they were trying to move and they to me I thought they took out the best teachers and they went to other schools. They went to a white school. But then white teachers came to Jones. And that was a transition with that. You know, because I always think teachers need to know their students. I went there from seventh grade to twelfth  grade. I got to know my teachers almost six years. And to me it was always a smooth transition. When people know you, you can’t just get away with too many things, you know. Now it’s just ninth grade through twelfth grade. So now kids come in from various middle schools. 

Griffin Park Public Housing Facility

But to your point, it did create some major problems for the community and we haven’t recovered from that. I don’t know if we will ever recover from it. Because the housing that used to be at that location, there’s no housing there on Division if you drive through there now. It is as wiped out. Also, that is, Miss Gracie knows, Griffin Park, was a public housing facility, that’s on its way out. So that’s where many of the people in the community, that was thier first start in public housing. And that was one of the first public housing facility in Orlando was Griffin Park….

Historic Building Restoration

It’s always an effort to restore something and I’m on the bandwagon to restore it. But it is in the situation now that more than likely it is going to be demolished. And that’s a sad state now that we have an historic facility and they’re talking about possibly allowing one or two buildings to remain onsite given that historic history where we have a building that can kind of give a history of the facility. As far as restoring it, the United States Government because it’s public housing they’re saying no we’re not going to restore it….

Pappy Kennedy Ran City-Wide

One of the challenges of Parramore and you guys will see this all the time, is that Parramore was more of a rental community and when you have rental and you don’t own, you have very little say in the matter. And then the other piece of it that was very important and I know Grace knows this was when we went to single member districting; before that, it was at large. So Pappy Kennedy ran city-wide. He didn’t have that single-member districting.

Single Member Districting

But once we got single member districting, then that put more teeth. We had somebody that was designated as a commissioner for the area versus it being that  communitywide. And to me, that kick started a lot of the things to happen. Because now you have somebody that’s specifically set up; that’s specifically assigned to the area that can speak on behalf of the citizens of that area. But we didn’t get that until the early 70’s. Was it the early 70’s? It was a long time that you had a community that wasn’t represented. Parramore didn’t have any strong representation to go there and do all the fighting. You did have attorneys out there that could do their thing. You know based on citizen comment or citizen support.

Parramore Homeownership

But you still need to have that district person or that person that was your leader in encouraging more participation from the citizen, homeownership was not there. A lot of folks in that area were renting. We still have a high number right now in Parramore today. There’s only maybe about 12 % homeownership in Parramore and 80 something percent rental. So the individuals in Parramore right now are concerned that they’re going to be pushed out. Because you look at the development that’s coming in there and these are developers that don’t have no connection to Orlando. They have no connection with anything other than money. But those things are happening. You know we have some things that’s going on. We’ve got to have more housing. People are moving into the intercity.  They are leaving the suburbs and coming here because of the transportation, opportunities and jobs. But that’s one of the things that has troubled Parramore.

Luminary Green Park

And the other troubling piece, how do you change the landscape of Parramore and not keep the historically significant things in place? How do you balance that? That’s what Mayor Dyer and the team has to do. How do you balance the things of history that maybe in bad shape; how do you get the community to come in and say we’re going to embrace it. You know we do a lot of putting people’s names on the mural. You know, we have a luminary park.

“Keep the History Alive…”

But what about housing what are those things where people will own their home versus renting. And renting, you’re at the will of whoever the owner is when it comes to that. So it’s a challenge. How do you balance it? You know we were a small city. But we’re grown up. We’re a midtown city, a midrange city now. So we’ve grown up real fast. So I commend you all for you all being a part of this organization to keep the history alive, to keep it well. To keep it in the forefront. Because if not, history is never going to be wiped away, but it won’t be brought up as much as it should be in the conversation….

Resolution Presented to Walter G. Hawkins from Orlando Remembered.

Oral History Presenter:  Walter G. Hawkins,  City of Orlando Director of Urban Development 

History Recorded by:  Jane Tracy, President Orlando Remembered

Date:  February 15, 2023

Place:  Orlando Public Library

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Jones High School

Jones High School.

Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church

Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church.

Holden Street Elementary School

Holden Street Elementary School.

Walter G. Hawkins, City of Orlando Director of Urban Development

Walter G. Hawkins, City of Orlando Director of Urban Development.

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