STATE SEN. BOBBY POWELL: Sponsored the Senate legislation earmarking state funds to assist government and private parties in identification, protection and preservation of historic and abandoned gravesites, with emphasis on African American sites. The grant submission deadline is Nov. 30. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOBBYPOWELLJR.COM

Staff Report

TALLAHASSEE – A statewide grant program earmarking funds for the identification of abandoned African American gravesites throughout Florida is now open for applications, state Sen. Bobby Powell announced Thursday.

Powell (D-West Palm Beach) sponsored the Senate legislation establishing the program. Identical legislation was sponsored in the House by Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa). The grant program is being administered by Florida’s Department of State.

HB49 allows research institutions, colleges and universities, and qualified nonprofit organizations to apply to the Abandoned African American Cemeteries Grant Program for awards up to $50,000, for conducting genealogical and historical research needed to identify and contact the relatives and descendants of individuals buried in abandoned African American cemeteries.

Local governments and qualified nonprofit organizations may also apply for grants up to $50,000 for the purposes of repairing, restoring and maintaining abandoned African American cemeteries.

The deadline for grant submissions is Nov. 30, 2023, at 5 p.m. No matching funds are required.

Applications and additional information can be found on the Department of State’s website at

“I am very pleased that this effort to finally identify the final resting places of countless Floridians, especially Floridians of color, is now underway,” said Powell. “This gives us an opportunity to honor their lives, and affirm that they will never again be forgotten. “ Powell recently received a “Legislative Appreciation” recognition from the Small County Coalition, a 40-member organization dedicated to the visibility and support of issues critical to small and rural counties throughout Florida.

“I’m very honored to receive this recognition,” Powell said. “It’s sometimes easy to overlook the smaller counties when dealing with the major issues that impact lives in our state, especially when you represent a much larger population of Floridians. But a life of service means service to all of the people, not just some.”

Although he represents one of Florida’s largest counties, Powell was given the award in appreciation for “attention to the challenges that are faced” in small and rural counties, and his “access and willingness” to address these issues, according to the Coalition’s chairman, Hardee County Commissioner Russell Melendy. Issues cited include water and environmental quality, economic protections and development, and access to quality health care.

Powell is expected to resign from his District 24 office to seek the District 7 Palm Beach County Commission seat of term-limited Commissioner Mack Bernard when qualifying opens in May for the August 2024 Democratic Primary.

Also running is fellow Democrat and local attorney Richard Ryles, who served a year on the West Palm Beach Commission after winning a 2019 Special Election, but missed the 2020 election filing deadline. According to reporting by, Ryles wrote a $100,000 check to his campaign last month. That left Powell’s campaign account with reportedly $33,000 less Ryles, at $113,000.