- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Predominately minority protesters in Florida yesterday announced a boycott of several major state industries after Gov. Jeb Bush refused to exempt this year’s high school seniors from passing a test to graduate.

The boycott, which includes tourism, the Florida Lottery and the state’s sugar and citrus industries, comes at the urging of two dozen pastors, legislators and community activists.

“We are urging everybody to take part in this boycott,” said Lisa Joseph, a spokeswoman for Bishop Victor T. Curry, who is spearheading the sanctions. “It’s going to be a long process, one that will last weeks, months and could even go into next year.”

Bishop Curry will lead a statewide tour to enact the boycott, he said, affecting all of the state’s major cities.

“And in the process, we will also take the time to register voters,” Miss Joseph said.

Nearly 10 percent of the state’s 138,000 high school seniors will not graduate this year because they failed to pass the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test.

Mr. Bush has accused the protesters of being politically motivated rather than having a sincere concern for the failing students.

“To us, this protest over [the test] is absolutely unnecessary,” said Alia Faraj, a spokeswoman for the governor. “Florida has seen its biggest improvement in test scores ever, with the largest gains being made by African-American and Hispanic students.”

Mr. Curry, past president of the Miami-Dade branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has shown unrestrained animosity for the Bush family in the past, at one point comparing President Bush’s Cabinet to Nazis on his Miami-area radio show.

“This regime does not care about the American public,” Mr. Curry said last year. “They are on a neo-Nazi, right-wing mission.”

The test, given to public school students in grades 3 through 10 in reading and math, began in 1999.

Seniors have five chances to take the test.

After graduation day, those who have failed to graduate can continue taking the test indefinitely.

Last year, 8 percent of the state’s 131,000 high school seniors did not graduate because they failed to pass the test.

Even if the requirement were lifted, 40 percent of those who have not yet passed the test would fail anyway, said Frances Marine, press secretary at the Florida Department of Education.

“Shame on these protesters for trying to lower the standards for these students,” Miss Marine said. “All we are trying to do is to make sure these students are prepared when they leave high school.’”

The boycott was officially started yesterday by a 400-car motorcade of protesters that snarled metropolitan Miami traffic during the morning rush hour. The caravan ended at the governor’s Miami-Dade County office at Florida International University.

The boycott includes all tourism with no exceptions, even minority-owned businesses.

“We are concerned about anything that could hurt the small businessman,” said Luis DeRosa, president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of South Florida. “We as Puerto Ricans understand the effort, but are pro-small business.”

Several high-profile, black-oriented conferences are scheduled this summer in Florida, including the NAACP’s annual gathering, which is to include most of the nine Democratic presidential contenders, and the Multi-Cultural Hotel Ownership Tourism Summit, which is to feature celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

The boycott is the first black-initiated protest since 1990, when several leaders called for sanctions against Miami tourism. That action was called after county officials snubbed Nelson Mandela because of the South African leader’s friendship with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Until its end in 1993, the boycott cost the area an estimated $54 million in convention revenue.


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