ST. PETE/GULFPORT – More than 200 residents and business owners from St. Petersburg and Gulfport gathered at the Tangerine Greenway on 49th Street South to celebrate the third annual Mayor’s Cleanup.
“We represent two cities, but we have one goal,” wrote St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson in a letter to business owners along both sides of 49th Street South.
For the last three years, event organizer Margrette Tober has planned the community cleanup to foster collaboration between two cities that were once divided along ethnic lines.
“Yes. I remember the riots,” said Tober, as she recalled her high school years at Boca Ciega in the late 60s and early 70s as being very scary.
She said the administration and security officers told the white boys to “drop their weapons and leave them in a pile before entering classrooms.”
Last Saturday, however, white, black, Latino, Asian and Middle Eastern Americans worked side-by-side cleaning the south side of the 49th Street business corridor.
“We came here with our church Bridge Point,” said Solie White. “We basically cleaned up some of the streets on Gulfport alleyways. We found a tire that was in perfect condition. We found two dead cell phones. That’s about it.”
Lakewood High senior Jamiah Holmes came with a group of young people.
“We found a dead bird while cleaning up on 49th Street,” said Holmes, who participated in the cleanup for the first time.
As the cleanup teams returned from their assigned areas from as far north as Fifth Avenue and 49th Street South, lunch was ready and being served at 11 a.m.
As a mixed group of males sat down at a table for lunch with St. Petersburg and Gulfport police officers and shared their concerns. The result was a dialog about getting to know each other better and leaving preconceived ideas behind.
“This is a joint effort between city’s police departments, city staffs and residents on both sides of this boundary between both cities to say that the boundary doesn’t mean anything,” said Gulfport Chief of Police Robert Vincent. “This is one community.”
Commander of Gulfport Police Department Joshua Stone took a moment to speak about jobs in law enforcement.
“We need to get out there into the community and host forums with young people and talk about issues that may come up in law enforcement, especially the issues coming up today.”
Gibbs High School senior Alex Streete even expressed an interest in wanting to work in law enforcement after he graduates.
“I want to work in law enforcement because I want to change the reputation of police officers,” said Streete, who strongly believes that people who are from the community could potentially make better law enforcement officers.
The last of the crews were back from cleaning both sides of 49th Street by noon. Tober thanked everyone for volunteering and expressed that she hopes to see more groups next year to not only help clean the street that divides the two cities, but to work together to remove the divide altogether.