African American organizations set priorities at Mt. Carmel meeting
Joe Courter
April 1999

Unless you've had your head in the sand toward local issues, you know that the African-American community of Alachua County is coming together and being heard like no other time in our recent history. On Tuesday night, April sixth, representatives from the NAACP, the Martin Luther King corporation, 100 Black Men, the Focus on Leadership, the Black Nurses Association, union representatives and ministers came together at Mt. Carmel Church in the wake of police chief Don Shinnamons' resignation to assess their priorities and direction for the coming months. The overall feeling was one of unity; that Don Shinnamon was not the issue; that affirmative action was and is the prize that the eyes need to be focused on. Citywide, the need for an equal opportunity office needed to be met, recreating the position that was dissolved during the McKnew/Painter era, and that this needs to be a chartered position. The U.S. Justice Department investigation of GPD will begin soon at the behest of the Alachua County NAACP, and that will shed more light on the situation at GPD, and hopefully move the affirmative action process forward.

Meanwhile, other issues will also be on the table of the invigorated organizations. Monday's Gainesville Sun showed a strong gathering of Black community leaders speaking out for the need for economic development which will provide jobs for minorities, in this case the Dollar General facility in Alachua; but also focusing on jobs for the east side of Gainesville. Count on education issues to come into view in the near future as well, as curriculum and textbook quality will soon be addressed.

These are all issues which will build a better and stronger Alachua County as a whole, and are not just struggles for the Black community to take on alone.

I guess we owe some gratitude to the hiring process that gave us Don Shinnamon as police chief. The mistake of thinking an officer from Baltimore County, an overwhelmingly white, middle class conservative area (Spiro Agnew's home base) could fit in here gave us all an opportunity to begin working together. Shinnamon should not be the scapegoat and have business as usual continue, as former county commissioner Tom Coward pointed out on Tuesday night at Mt. Carmel. The "community focus group" being appointed by city manager Wayne Bowers will need to be monitored.

The Gainesville Sun reported on very healthy skepticism of the committee idea. "I think it very suspect in the creation of blue ribbon committees and committee focus groups. If you are not careful, what will happen is you take your eyes off the prize and give up the victory for a semblence of involvement," Earl Young of 100 Black Men was quoted as saying. "...committees are pall bearers to the cemetary. If you want something to die, put it in a committee and you will never hear from it again," was Reverend Freeman Gallmon's comment in the Sun.

Steve Brown of 100 Black Men told this reporter that he was very optimistic coming off the Tuesday meeting, especially with the broad involvement of ministers and community groups. "Springtime is a time of growth, a beautiful time for new larger organizations and involvement." We agree.

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