In 2012, Josh Womack and residents of the North Escambia County community of Cantonment began organizing a new organization that would strengthen the voice of its Black residents. They began with a small group of concerned citizens tired of their neighborhood conditions and lack of attention by Escambia County government. The new organization was named the Cantonment Improvement Committee or CIC, Josh Womack was elected as Chairman, and change began to manifest in this often neglected community.
May 22, 2014 the Cantonment Improvement Committee (CIC) celebrated their birthday with their second annual luncheon at the Greater 1st Baptist Church in Cantonment which is led by Pastor Rev. Kenneth Jessie. Josh Womack stayed up most of the night before preparing for this special occasion with his brother Joe Mack and other members of the organization to celebrate the occasion with residents, county and FEMA officials.
The Master of Ceremony, Elder Robert Gross of Deliverance Tabernacle Church, made sure his roots in Cantonment were shared with the audience that filled the church auditorium. Escambia County officials began their presentations of support for the CIC’s program of community development affirming the respect that the group has received from government officials. Larry Walker of the Emerald Coast Utility Authority (ECUA) made his comments concerning the fact that ECUA has moved Cantonment to the top of their community project list. He went on to announce the purchase of three plots of land to construct new sewage lift stations in the CRA target area. Sherriff David Morgan followed Walker with comments concerning safety and the neighborhood watch program, and County Commissioner Steve Barry chimed in on how proud he is with the resident involvement to improve the community and offered his support for continued cooperation. Barry stated that, “These people are not waiting for us; they are doing things on their own.”
Josh Womack, then, invited Tony McCray, NAACP Pensacola Branch Economic Development Chair, to speak on the continuing meetings held to prepare the Cantonment community for participation in the BP Oil Spill RESTORE Act funding opportunities for the potential creation of jobs, business opportunities, and community youth programs. Peggy Fowler, a planner with Habitat for Humanity, came after McCray with a similar update on assisting the community with planning for its future of neighborhood revitalization. Womack went on to recognize Humphries the manager of the Escambia County Transit Authority (ECAT), Max Rodgers of the County Community Redevelopment Agency staff, and FEMA’s Intergovernmental Affairs Manager, Greg Desrosiers, who offered assistance for recovery from the April 30th flooding that took place.
The very last speaker was the CIC Chairman Josh Womack himself. He thanked the members of the CIC for their ongoing commitment to community revitalization and said that, “We are doing so much on our own, imagine what we can accomplish with more support from our public officials.” He used Oliver Jones, the Executive Director of Pensacola Boy’s Base, as an example of membership dedication to the effort, for the training he provides the group in team building, and organizational development.
Before the soul food lunch of ribs, baked and fried chicken was served, there was a sense of irony as the Sheriff belted out his rendition of the Sam Cooke classic “A Change is Gonna Come” because it was clear to CIC members and its Chairman that change has already come to Cantonment, however, there is just much more to come!