Black Voices Matter Series: An Interview with Bakari Burns

A continuing series in which local African American leaders speak about what’s broken in our nation—and how it might be fixed.

Bakari Burns, Orlando District 6 commissioner and president/CEO of Health Care Center for the Homeless Inc.

Bakariburns“We have a very compassionate community,” Bakari Burns says. It was in Orlando, after all, that “the biggest opportunities in my life were afforded to me by people who didn’t look like me.” But many other blacks don’t share his experience. “There’s still what they consider the good old boy network where, if you’re connected with those in power, you potentially have opportunity, and if you’re not, you may miss opportunities.”

Burns says he hopes the fallout from George Floyd’s killing will bring “bold structural changes” that include affordable housing, jobs, wages and education. He called Orange County Sheriff John Mina’s new policy—which requires officers to intervene when excessive force is used—a positive step. “There also needs to be concerted and intentional efforts to recruit police officers from minority communities”—blacks, Latinos and other minorities—”so you have a police force that’s more reflective of the communities they’re serving.”

He also proposes incentivizing officers to live in the communities they serve. “When you do that, you see individuals as neighbors, and they’re less of a threat.” By being more proactive, we can “build up a community and prevent negative interactions between the minority community and the police.”

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