An old man, going a lone highway
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
In many ways, Will Allen Dromgoole's poem The Bridge Builder illustrates what drives Jetie B. Wilds' latest endeavor.
Wilds, a longtime Tampa activist and former radio host, has built a bridge for a younger generation with eggs, bacon and grits, along with heaping doses of wisdom, respect and connections. But make no mistake, he's not looking just to reach back and help.
"It isn't just building a bridge that they can cross over," Wilds said. "It's also taking advantage of what they bring to help build the bridge."
The bridge building began nearly three years ago when Wilds and his good friend James Ransom, board member for the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs, sought to build on some early efforts to connect the African-American community's young entrepreneurs with the so-called "old guard."
For years, Wilds had hosted a weekly radio show on WTMP-AM 1250, The Citizens Report, that spurred discussions about issues impacting the community.
When the station was purchased and changed formats to Latin music, the show had no home. But the desire to continue the dialogue remained, so Wilds invited a few leaders to join him for a Saturday morning breakfast at the Open Cafe in East Tampa.
Now the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, an exclusive group of African-American men, has evolved into a networking effort that's beginning to build that bridge for the next generation.
Those who have come and addressed the Saturday Morning Breakfast Group read like a who's who of local leaders: Tampa Housing Authority CEO Jerome Ryans; school district superintendent MaryEllen Elia; county administrator Mike Merrill; and Tampa-Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. president Rick Houmans.
Last week, the group hosted Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, who presented a thought-provoking PowerPoint presentation about his vision for TIA's future.
When the discussion turned to minority hiring, Wilds and Ransom made it clear that the group wants information about how to take advantage of the airport's hiring policies, but it's not demanding set-asides or quotas.
"We don't ever want to get into the position that all we're doing is asking for something," Wilds said. "Our message is, 'You have things you're trying to do to address the community and we have talented people who can help you get that done."
"We want to create partnerships."
The group remains a work in progress. It wants to become more formalized, but doesn't want to adopt the conventional organizational structure with officers.
The ideal is to have everyone deemed a leader with an equal voice.
It also has to decide who gets to sit at the table. It's invitation-only and will remain that way. Overcoming those challenges won't be easy, but I certainly applaud the effort.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.
For so long, the African-American community has talked about connecting the energy of the young entrepreneurs with the wisdom of the established leaders. It's a microcosm of a larger overall problem in Tampa, and many have made strides to address it.
To see it materializing provides new hope.
That's all I'm saying.