So, I certainly didn’t know what to expect when 21 people got together for the first-ever New Tampa and Wesley Chapel Zoom community meeting on racism on August 25, but I have to say that it was shocking, eye-opening, disheartening and heartwarming all at the same time.
How could it possibly have been all of those things at once?
It was shocking because, from my meeting co-host — District 63 State Rep. Fentrice Driskell — to military veteran April Lewis to my friend Nikii Lewis (all shown on this page), some of the stories told by the black and white people alike who participated in that meeting showed just how prevalent dealing with racism in our area and this country truly is and seemingly always has been.
It was shocking for me to hear that Rep. Driskell, a Harvard University and Georgetown Law-educated Tampa-based attorney originally from Polk County, has been assumed to be either the court reporter or the client/defendant as often as she has been assumed to be the lawyer.
It was eye-opening to hear Nikii, who lives in a mostly white neighborhood in Wesley Chapel, tell the story about her six-year-old daughter, who told her — at age 3 — that she’s afraid of white people, and that when her daughter was drawing pictures of people, she wouldn’t use a brown crayon because, she said, she wanted the people “to look normal.”
And, it was disheartening to hear that April Lewis, a recent transplant to New Tampa who is suffering from PTSD after six years in the Army with two deployments, who also is a Gold Star wife whose husband was killed in Iraq, doesn’t feel safe when she walks into a store and doesn’t feel the same equality as I do.
But, the Zoom meeting also was heartwarming because several of the attendees who were white said that they were participating because they felt the need to do something in the wake of the recent shootings of black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and others by law enforcement officials and the civil unrest that has followed those incidents across this country.
When I organized the event I didn’t know what my goal was — and I still don’t — but I do know that I truly do not want it to stop there.
“I can’t even tell you how many times, as an attorney in court, that people have assumed that I was the court reporter or the defendant.” — State Representative Fentrice Driskell
“If my black skin is good enough to fight for this country, I can’t understand why my blackness isn’t good enough to receive the same equality as everyone else.” — New Tampa resident & Gold Star wife April Lewis.
“In one of the neighborhoods where Ronnell grew up in Tampa, there was an elementary school called Robert E. Lee Elementary, and that was just considered a normal thing. And, for too long, it was considered taboo to even talk about racism, so meetings like this are definitely a step in the right direction.” — Live Oak residents Ronnell & Brittaney Curtis
“When the George Floyd incident originally started, there were people in our own neighborhood patrolling in golf carts and (carrying) guns, which was kind of concerning to us.” — Wesley Chapel residents Sara & Kyle Hill
“My son is half Hispanic and it was only recently he told us he was discriminated against in school. When I asked why he never told us, he said he didn’t think my wife and I would believe him.” — New Tampa hotel owner David Larson
“I was working as a prosecutor in Pasco County and got pulled over by a cop because prosecutors have their plates blocked out. He didn’t believe I was a prosecutor until he called one of my associates he knew who told him I was.” — Attorney & Wesley Chapel resident Cornelius Demps
“I grew up in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania and we had no black people in our town. I remember we had a community pool and we were going to have a swim meet at the pool , but people in the town were concerned that something bad would happen if black people from other communities would be swimming in the pool. I wasn’t raised that way and I remember being shocked that anyone would think something like that.” — New Tampa resident Donna Harwood
“I worked as a speech language pathologist in the Pasco elementary schools and I am learning a lot about racial injustice in this country. I would like to do something about helping to change that situation, but I realize that (as a white person) I can’t lead that but I am here to learn and follow..” — New Tampa resident Naomi Lang-Unnasch.