For the last few issues, I’ve been writing in this space about how I’ve personally felt about the state of race relations in this country. And now, I feel fortunate that I have found a way to do something about it — and several dozen of my readers in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel have agreed to see if we can do that something together.
And, even though I still have no idea what I hope this group can accomplish, I do know that the readers who have responded that they’re interested in participating are of all different racial, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.
It’s the kind of group I hope to someday have a chance to meet with in person to have a beverage and/or a meal, or even a large-scale gathering in an open auditorium. But for now, it will begin with a Zoom meeting that originally had been scheduled for August 10 but has been postponed until a weeknight between August 19-August 26 that will be open to anyone who genuinely wants to be part of something that I hope will be helpful in some way.
In my August 4 editorial in Wesley Chapel Issue #16-20, I said that because it will be a Zoom meeting, I plan to moderate the discussion that evening and I have asked someone I have a huge amount of respect for to co-moderate it with me — District 63 State Representative Fentrice Driskell — who has already re-won reelection to her seat because of having no opponent and who represents the New Tampa area in the Florida House of Representatives.
Rep. Driskell is originally from Tampa Bay and moved back home after law school to find meaningful ways to involve herself in the community. So, as my co-moderator, she is someone who is familiar with our local context. Rep. Driskell believes that, in order to address racism, and ultimately, to heal its wounds, our community must be willing to have tough, honest and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about race. She also is in conversation with multiple stakeholders around these issues to develop policy solutions to tackle institutional racism at the legislative level.
Rep. Driskell also is working with other elected officials and community leaders on a project in conjunction with the Equal Justice Initiative that will lead to more community conversations about race. Through the project, local officials will erect a marker that will honor and memorialize the lives lost to racial lynchings in Hillsborough County during the Jim Crow era. The goal of that project is both to educate our community about its past with respect to racially motivated violence and also to spark dialogue about how our shared past is relevant to the structural racism that we see today. She believes that this kind of dialogue, rooted in the factual truth of our common past, will help us develop solutions to build a future that is more fair, inclusive and expansive in opportunity for us all.
After mentioning Rep. Driskell in my Aug. 4 editorial, I also mentioned, in the last paragraph of that editorial, that, “As the moderator of the Zoom meeting, one thing I won’t be interested in discussing is the defunding of law enforcement, which has become a popular rallying cry in the wake of (George) Floyd’s death. I also will do everything I can to not allow finger-pointing or for the meeting to become about Red vs. Blue.
“As someone who grew up in New York and saw police officers running towards people who had just been shot as I tried to go in the opposite direction — away from the danger — no one can convince me that 1) most cops aren’t good public servants & 2) to improve law enforcement’s protection of us will mean additional training that will cost more money, not less.”
Once Rep. Driskell saw my editorial, however, she called me to discuss it and shared her sentiment that in order for the meeting to be as inclusive as possible, it would be important for us to welcome the perspectives of all participants. She also shared that, as an elected official, it is her job and duty to listen and to consider the opinions of all of her constituents.
I really felt badly when Rep. Driskell brought this to my attention and, after we spoke about it, I better understood why I received some negative emails because of that paragraph.
So, while we may have differing viewpoints on some issues, Rep. Driskell and I agree that we have a responsibility to not exclude anyone’s ideas that would be productive to the discussion.
In addition, even though I didn’t want to postpone the meeting, in light of how Rep. Driskell felt about my editorial — which I didn’t share with her prior to publishing it in that Aug. 4 issue — in the current scope of the discussion, I agreed it was the right thing to do.
I knew it wasn’t easy for her to have to call me about it, but even though all of the opinions expressed in all 600+ of my page 3 editorials I have published in the 26 years I have owned and been the editor of the Neighborhood News have always been mine alone, once I was introducing Rep. Driskell as my co-moderator, I should have at least run the column by her, which might have prevented us from having to postpone it.
Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to join this open dialogue with this diverse group of your neighbors in New Tampa and Wesley Chapel. Once the revised Zoom meeting date and time are set, I will again email everyone who signed up with a link to the meeting.