The Florida Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (FBC-LEO) held a very successful first annual state convention branded as ACTION/TOGETHER 2014 FORUM here in Pensacola, Florida at the Crown Plaza Hotel from Tuesday May 27th through Friday May 30th. Operation People for Peace, led by Art Rocker in partnership with Magic Johnson Entertainment, and the FBC-LEO hosted this strategic conference on community issues.
The President of the FBC-LEO, City of Palmetto Commissioner Charles Smith, said that he was excited with the results of the Action/Together 2014 Forum in Pensacola and looked forward to the implementation of the strategies throughout the State of Florida. The Florida elected representatives in attendance were from cities throughout the state and included former Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll. Mobile, Alabama elected officials were represented by the newly elected Mayor Sandy Stimpson, and Mayor Billy Bloomfield of Moss Point led the representation from Mississippi.
The highlight of the conference was the Wednesday afternoon session which included Andy Ingraham, CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers, accompanied by Jay Patel, of Pensacola, a founding board member of the hotel owners association, and his brother, hotel owner, Nash Patel. Ingraham delved deep into the story of how the Black Hotel Owners Association was organized with the support of Jay Patel and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. He described the growth of the hospitality industry business group as a lesson on “How to go from cleaning the hotel rooms to the executive suite to hotel ownership.” The annual conference for the Black hotel owners’ organization will be held from July 16th to the 19th at the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay Hotel.
The FBC-LEO’s first annual convention lived up to its marketing that it would engage citizens in workshops geared to addressing the issues impacting their communities from neighborhood rebuilding, to education and workforce development, to human rights challenges.
The discussion on Community Rebuilding was chaired by Mayor Billy Bloomfield of Moss Point, Mississippi. The roundtable tackled the question by the City of Sarasota Mayor Willie Charles Shaw, “How do we revitalize our communities?” Former Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll stated, “I would like to offer business incubators and programs like the Black Business Investment Board (BBIB) in Florida as a response to the need for capital as a strategy to attract commerce into the Black community.”
Heritage tourism was offered as a solution for historic neighborhood revitalization, business creation, and workforce development. There was the caution of historic preservation guidelines which control the design, rehabbing, and new construction elements of this approach. However, the group of Black elected officials offered to begin the design and development of their own historic preservation criteria that would reduce the fears of existing official guidelines and outside control. Mayor Eric Jones of West Park, Florida submitted vision and marketing through social media as key solutions to the challenging question of how do we revitalize our communities.
Also on the agenda was a roundtable discussion regarding Human Rights moderated by Jacqueline Miles, The Pensacola Voice Newspaper Publisher. The subjects discussed included the Black Boys of the Dozier Reform School, the 1974 drowning of five Atlanta fishermen in Pensacola, the Escambia County Jail, and the voter suppression of minorities. The panel consisted of Paula C Johnson, Professor of Law and Co-Director of Cold Case Justice Initiative, Syracuse University College of Law, Richard Huntley, John Bonner and Arthur Huntley; actual former incarcerated Black men of the Dozier Reform School in Marianna, Florida. Also in attendance was Lonnie King, Former Civil Rights activist that worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Atlanta, Rev. R. L. Grundy, President of the State of Florida SCLC and Bryan J. Hamlin, Civil and Human Rights, Attorney at Law, Pensacola, Florida.
“We’re here to not only discuss these violations of Human/Civil Rights but to also strategize and come up with solutions that can be used locally as well as nationally to bring about a change in our community,” said Miles. Attorney Johnson began the discussion with the drowning of the five fishermen. “This is a case that is still open,” stated Johnson. “Five men from Atlanta, Georgia came to Pensacola in November 1974 on their annual fishing trip. They stopped by a Bait and Tackle Shop to purchase bait and had words with someone in the store. They never made it to the fishing trip and when they failed to return to Atlanta, they were reported missing. It was not until the FBI got involved that the bodies began to wash ashore in different places. “The family is asking anyone that may have information regarding this incident to please come forward” said Attorney Johnson.
The mission of the organization is dedicated to embracing elected officials, its members and stakeholders with the support, tools, training, technical assistance and advocacy that facilitate their growth, development and leadership capacity. The caucus goes to great lengths to make certain that the organization is, “reaching across party lines” to ensure that they effectively express their theme to all elected officials and community participants by producing a valuable dialogue.