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Newtown Florist Club shows off activist group's new headquarters
A Newtown youth rides a bicycle past the new location of the Newtown Florist Club on Sunday afternoon. The Club, established nearly a half century ago, has expanded to include advocacy and education about environmental, social and political issues affecting the community.

For the last four months, Gainesville High School students have joined Newtown residents in preparing for the opening of the Newtown Florist Club’s Desota Street office.

Faye Bush, executive director of the Newtown Florist Club, said The Home Depot donated paint, and Gainesville High School construction students put a fresh coat of it on the house and spent a month building a handicapped ramp at the office entrance.

Finally, the new Desota Street office opened its doors to the public Friday, allowing club members, youths and neighborhood residents to tour the office during a three-day open house.

Bush said the florist club operated out of another residence, 1067 Desota St., for 10 years before the club moved to 1064 Desota St. in November.

Bush’s mother, Maggie Johnson, was one of 11 women who founded the Newtown Florist Club in 1950. The ladies of the florist club traveled door to door within the neighborhood collecting donations to purchase flowers for Newtown residents’ funerals.

But over the years, the club evolved to an activist group that aims to involve youths in its environmental justice efforts. She said the club needed a bigger office for its growing youth and environmental health program.

"We want it to be a resource center, a history center and an office," Bush said. "We’re trying to do a lot of things with the youth and with the environment. We also want to have a place to collect history for the next generation. People can come here to see the history of what we’ve done over the years."

The walls of the new office are lined with black and white photos taken by photographer Michael Schwarz that detail the black community’s struggles with civil rights and health hazards that may be connected to the numerous factories and plants operating in the area.

Newspaper and magazine articles are also on display at the office. They tell the stories of Newtown Florist Club members, such as Mozetta Whelchel, who fought fiercely to find answers for the unexplained increase in lupus and cancer cases in the Newtown neighborhood.

Five-year Newtown Florist Club member Howard Banks said the new office could attract more youths to the environmental program. Banks said he hopes that once they learn the history of their community, they will keep coming back to the program to be a part of its future.

"They will see pictures of the struggle with civil rights, and they will see how it used to be. But things are so much better now, especially with this new building. It’s a monument to the community," Banks said. "It’s time for the next generation to fall behind Ms. Faye and carry the torch, and to carry the work on."