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Tallahassee NAACP president discusses travel advisory for Black tourists in Fla.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's head to Florida now, a state for which the NAACP has just issued a travel advisory. It cites Florida Governor Ron DeSantis', quote, "aggressive attempts to erase Black history." And it continues, Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Well, the NAACP is the third civil rights group in recent days to issue travel notices for Florida. And this, of course, comes as DeSantis is gearing up to announce his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, perhaps as soon as this week. Well, let's bring in Mutaqee Akbar. He's president of the NAACP branch in Tallahassee, Florida's capital. Welcome.

MUTAQEE AKBAR: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: In a few sentences, tell me what prompted this, like, specifically which laws.

AKBAR: Well, specifically, it was the taking away of the AP Black History course back in March that started the conversation with the Florida State Conference. And that led to a recommendation to the board of directors nationally to issue this travel advisory.

KELLY: And then I saw that just last week, Governor DeSantis signed legislation to defund diversity programs, DEI programs at public universities and colleges in Florida. Was that a factor?

AKBAR: Yes, that was a factor as well. So it's been these culture wars for the last few legislative sessions, which made it an easy process for the board of directors.

KELLY: Now, I want to be careful about language here. And I said, this is a travel advisory.

AKBAR: Yeah.

KELLY: It's not a warning. You're not telling people to avoid travel to Florida. Why not?

AKBAR: Well, there are Black businesses. We don't want it to negatively affect those people in Florida who have nothing to do with what the governor and the legislature is doing.

KELLY: You said you don't want to hurt businesses.

AKBAR: Right.

KELLY: But Florida is a huge tourist destination. What economic impact are you expecting this to have?

AKBAR: It could. But I think if it does make an economic impact, then maybe that'll draw enough attention for those elected officials to kind of pull back.

KELLY: We reached out today to the governor's office for comment, and his press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, sent us this. Quote, "Florida is seeing record-breaking tourism. This is nothing more than a stunt." Mr. Akbar, is this a stunt?

AKBAR: It's not a stunt. I mean, it's a way to draw attention to what has been going on in this state and also to draw attention to the person who has been leading this, which is Governor DeSantis. So we're hoping that this will be a national effort to, like, kind of point to what he's been doing so it doesn't spread throughout this country, which would be disastrous.

KELLY: I do need to ask about timing. DeSantis is expected to throw his hat in the ring this week for the Republican nomination.

AKBAR: Yes.

KELLY: Did that play a role here?

AKBAR: No. This was recommended back in March by the Florida State Conference, and it just so happened that the next meeting for the board of directors was this past weekend. And as a matter of fact, we was hoping that it would have come a lot sooner than this week.

KELLY: Yeah. Just to step us back for a moment, the laws and policies that you object to that have prompted this travel advisory - can you speak for a moment to the impact of those? How are they playing out for Floridians so far?

AKBAR: Well, some of them have just started. Others are huge concern. I mean, if you look at even the, quote-unquote, "Stop WOKE Act" that deals with education and what can be taught in schools and...

KELLY: Yeah, restricts some race-based conversations in schools. Go on.

AKBAR: Exactly. So now you have teachers, you have administrators that are in real fear as far as what they can even teach. One other law that we've looked at that kind of triggered our concern is HB 1 last year, but it dealt with protesting. That had an effect on how people will protest and respond to, you know, police brutality and those things. And those are the things that we are speaking out against with this travel advisory.

KELLY: And what kind of reaction are you hearing so far to this advisory?

AKBAR: So far, it's been positive. I mean, and that's just talking to people locally. But I think, you know, what the NAACP will do is getting people out to the polls, registering people to vote, educating the community on what's going on and why it's going on so we can see real change.

KELLY: Mr. Akbar, thank you.

AKBAR: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: That is Mutaqee Akbar, president of the Tallahassee, Fla., branch of the NAACP.

(SOUNDBITE OF EAGLES' "JOURNEY OF THE SORCERER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.