This has been a very difficult election cycle for black St. Petersburg. It has caused a significant amount of partisanship within the community. Not just among the politicians, but amongst the religious institutions, the educational community, civic groups, business people and the everyday citizens.
It does not matter which side of the political spectrum you are on, there are people willing to take you on, not only in support of their favored candidate but you personally for having the nerve and temerity to support whichever candidate you happen to be supporting.
While we might all want to believe, or hope, this is all about this election, this is more a revelation of deep-seated, angst, hubris, mistrust, distrust, grudges, dislike, classism and a few other disturbing things that have been going on this community for many years.
It is a toxic stew that makes progress difficult, if not almost impossible. It does not matter who is elected mayor or to the city council. It does not matter which plans or programs are implemented. It does not matter who opens a business. It does not matter how many new schools are built. If this problem is not dealt with and mitigated, it will be business as usual in Midtown and we will continue to receive the same results that we have obtained for the last 40 years.
The problem manifests itself in many ways. It manifests itself in poor schools and educational opportunities for our children; failed and marginal businesses; an ever-expanding cadre of religious institutions and churches with ever fewer members and gentrification, to name a few. Rome is burning while we are fiddling.
Although the vast majority of people in the community know that this is a problem of significance, very few people will openly admit or discuss it. It’s called washing your dirty laundry in public.
The real problem is that it is not being washed anywhere, public or private. We see failure after failure in the business community, in our educational institutions and so many other places, and yet, we fail to even admit the problem’s existence, much less any corrective actions that may be taken to mitigate its corrosive effect.
In order for a community to grow and be vibrant, it needs a core group of citizens that care more about the community than they do their own issues. The community has to matter more than the political cliques that you are in or the politicians you want to support.
The businesses within the community have to have the support of the community as well as advice on how to improve and meet the needs of the community. The community needs processes, procedures, institutions, groups, leaders and people that seek to unite rather than divide the community against its own interest.
I honestly believe that many people, including leaders, within the community genuinely want to see the community grow and prosper. However, they oftentimes believe that it can only grow and prosper if things are done the way they want or believe they should be done.
While the community may be better off if the path of a few is followed, it is much more likely to continue on the path that it is currently on because no matter what is done, the detractors will be there to discount and criticize.
If progress is to be made, it will be because people who are sworn enemies, opponents, combatants, whatever you want to call them, realize that in order to move the community forward, all parts of the community’s voice must be heard and allowed to participate in the process.
County Commissioner Ken Welch wrote an article entitled the “Mayoral Morning After” that stated that there was a necessity for the sides to come together after the election and work for the common good of the community. I would like to suggest that he host a community gathering shortly after the election and invite all of the varying sides and interest to begin the process of identifying those common core goals that we all should be able to support.
That we begin the process of recognizing each other’s differences and points of view and begin placing a higher priority on our common goals than our individual civic interests.
There is no sense in pretending that we are all going to come together, sing Kumbaya and live happily ever after. Learning to work together is going to be as hard as the fighting we have been participating in for so long. However, the fruits of our labor should be much more rewarding.