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Guest Editorial: We must work together to cure divisiveness

I have attended many events in Gadsden County where the folks attending are either almost all-white or all-black. We, Havana Main Street, have been trying to address these issues with events we host. That is, events that represent our community – one, not two. To date, not a lot of success. Let me give you just a sampling of my experiences:

A year ago, we kicked off our new community organization, Havana Main Street. We had a breakfast, heavily advertised with posters, ads, newsletters, etc. circulated throughout the total community. The turnout was great, about 200; the racial composition, not so great, about 98 percent white. Shortly thereafter, I attended a fundraising breakfast for Northside High School, another great event, the racial composition this time, 98 percent black.

Both events were intended to be for one community, not two. Both events, in their own way, were successful. They would have been truly special if they had been attended by one community, Havana. Attend most any town council meeting this past year and you will frequently witness the dissension that exists between two communities, not one. I’m sure I will offend some, but the vestiges of age-old bigotry in Havana is alive and well. It exists in two communities, not one!

This past May, Havana Main Street coordinated a major event, Festival of Arts and Bicycles, FAB. We thought we had a winning formula for bringing the two communities together in an event intended to bridge the divide and work toward being one community. We were able to get the Department of Transportation to put on a Bike Rodeo. They loaned us thirty bicycles and helmets.

We had many community volunteers to help out. We had bike rides, bike decorating, a bike safety course, a bike parade and bike decorating. In addition, we donated five bicycles to the Havana Magnet School to students selected by the school. These students and their families were invited to a pancake breakfast, recognized for their good behavior in school and given their bikes. They were invited to spend the day, participating in a host of activities, all free, that were designed to attract youth and their families.

We spent a lot of money on advertising. We handed out flyers, ran ads, had tv advertising, posted billboards and hung a huge banner on our Main Street, Highway 27. Once the breakfast was over, the racial composition of those remaining for a day of free, fun activities was all white. I have talked with a lot of folks and heard many discussions about how we remedy this problem.

Thus far, it is mostly just talk, sometimes loud and divisive. There has been little responsible action to overcome this divide. All of us can continue to live in the past, dredge up past injustices and rail on ad nauseum. Many of our town council meetings have become a stage for performances, rather than the meaningful action of a united people. If we continue this irresponsible babbling this town will never fulfill its potential and will only satisfy those whose efforts are to divide.

There are many wonderful people in both communities; no sorry, one community, ours. We need to be working together. I have been all over the world, 40 countries plus, and witnessed people of all colors, creeds and cultures. Most people want to live happily, together and experience peace and brotherhood.

Unfortunately, frequently, it is their leaders that create divisiveness and constant strife. Their goals are usually for their own benefit, not their community’s. I believe that same hope of peace and brotherhood exists in the hearts of most in Havana, but many are afraid to express this desire. When they do, the dividers, who tend to be the loudest, shout down the hesitant, timid voices.

We are the people. We have responsible citizens and leaders; although, not always on the same page. Let’s come together. We have an opportunity to become a model for how a community can live and work together for the benefit of all. If the dividers shout, let’s shut them up with unified efforts of the responsible.

I have been a merchant, the Wanderings, in Havana for 25 years, but not a resident. In the minds of some, being a nonresident will disqualify my opinion. However, having my bed in Tallahassee doesn’t diminish my love for this town. Any of you who know me have witnessed four generations of my family participating in community events and working with all the people who visit our business regardless of color, creed or culture.

Havana Main Street embraces these same principles based on a one community approach, not two. Our mission declaration, in part, states “shaping an exciting and prosperous future for Havana’s main street by utilizing the skills and talents of our community, businesses and town government.” Nothing less than this kind of coalition is needed if we are to overcome the divisiveness that now exists in Havana.

By Tony Lombardo
Executive Director, Havana Main Street