published: Wednesday, October 02, 2013
MLK Day center of dispute
By PHIL ATTINGER
AVON PARK -- Community members, no matter what the city plans, said they will hold a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in the Southside neighborhood of Avon Park.
The Southside Community Redevelopment Agency's planning committee met on Friday to discuss what would be done and were met with a full room of community members who said they didn't like the last year's plans.
"This is our event that has been taken away from us and we want to keep it our event, not someone else's," said resident and community leader Fern Davis.
Last January's event was reported to be the biggest in the city's history, something Gerald Snell, planning committee chairman, said Friday that he would like to see draw participants and visitors from other cities in the area.
Beatrice Peterson of Avon Park started the festival many years ago, originally as a neighborhood-based memorial walk that grew with the help of other individuals and organizations.
After the local Heritage Committee took over coordinating the day, the walk became a parade, Snell said.
However, the Southside CRA has headed the festival for the last two years. The January 2013 event lasted five days, included live musicians and an oratory contest and rerouted the parade from the Southside neighborhood to the historic downtown along Main Street to Memorial Field on Delaney Avenue.
Travis Garcia, hired by the city to plan the event, was concerned that community resistance might have to do with his last name or not being originally from Avon Park. He pointed out that he is African-American, has lived in Avon Park for 12 years and has served as a local minister.
He said he was approached by Snell and Theresa Whiteside, advisory board member, to take on planning for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20.
Garcia asked if people at Friday's meeting wanted to hear what he has planned or how much money it could make for the Southside, but they said no.
Members of the crowd stated they objected to someone being paid to plan the event versus doing it for free. They want to enjoy the day and not "make money."
Peterson said Friday that she organized the parade in 1995 and the event did not sell food, charge admission for events or pay an event planner.
"Everything was free, because I was here (during) the hustling and the bustling and the struggling of Dr. King. He did not sell, he gave his life for equality," Peterson said.
She said she didn't see where the Southside CRA benefited the Southside community.
"I don't see anything you all do in the Southside but put one street light there by the water," Peterson said.
Aljoe Hinson, Highlands NAACP president, also said opposition had nothing to do with Garcia as much as the proposed $10,000 cost for the event from the Southside CRA and the fact that the celebration would be held outside the Southside community.
Hinson said money from that CRA should go to fix roofs and improve homes in the area, not pay for a celebration.
"The money comes from the Southside CRA for events in the Southside CRA, and none of the events are held for our old folks to see," Hinson also said via email Friday. "Plus it's just too much money spent on one event. We feel we can do a better job with less money with community involvement."
Willie Gammage of South Carolina Avenue said people who had hosted the event previously really just wanted to get the event to its previous venue and format and wanted to know how to go about planning for it.
"But we're pressed for time. We can't keep pushing and pushing it, because if we do, we can't plan that," Gammage said.
City Councilwoman Brenda Giles told the committee that they couldn't vote on the matter Friday because the meeting was not advertised as an advisory board meeting -- only as the celebration's planning committee.
Maria Sutherland, administrative services director, said she could schedule a special meeting of the Southside CRA advisory board at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. However, she wouldn't have time to schedule and publicly advertise for the Avon Park City Council to meet the following Monday as the CRA board.
The earliest CRA board meeting would have to be Oct. 28, Sutherland said.
Theresa Whiteside, advisory board member, said that would be the best time for residents to bring concerns.
Davis and other residents said they would come back to that meeting, but would not stay for the rest of discussions.
News-Sun reporter Samantha Gholar contributed to this report.
(by: Travis G - 10/2/2013)
the facts are: The festival has NO entry fee and NEVER has, The inflatables are Free and Always have been. the only charge is the food from the PROFESSIONAL AND INSURED food vendors. It has not been "taken away" from the "people". This is a small group pushing a personal agenda and lying along the way. The truth of the matter is that with federal cuts the CRA across the board will have their funding cut in half next year. How do you provide for your community then? how many roofs will you fix then with no plan to fill in the void of lost funding. This one event if planned and supported properly could replace much of the needed funding for next year while putting on a great festival for the residents to enjoy. It really is a win win situation. But unfortunately there is misinformation running rampant and at the end of the day the community as a whole loses.....
Dispute (by: Melissa - 10/2/2013)
Why should the City have a say in this Holiday? The people that usually organize this event are angry that the City has taken it away from them in the name of unity?????? When something is not broken why try to fix it?
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