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Andre Moses White urges compromise in Tampa's Bro Bowl controversy

Andre Moses White had a dream. And a change of heart.

On Thursday, the Tampa native asked his friend Barbara Oguntade to speak on his behalf before a state review board looking at the historic value of the Bro Bowl in Perry Harvey Sr. Park in downtown Tampa.

Like several other black residents with strong ties to the area, he wanted to object to the nomination of the skateboarding basin to the National Register of Historic Places.

"There's a more significant cultural history of blacks in Tampa and their contributions that supersede the Bro Bowl," White said in his statement.

The panel, however, voted to recommend including the Bro Bowl on the National Register, setting the stage for a final decision in Washington, D.C.

White, who now lives in Atlanta, went to sleep that night and had a dream in which his father, Moses White, a renowned Tampa businessman who died decades ago, spoke to him about the park. And he says his father's message was one that might upset other members of the black community.

"My father died 27 years ago, and he never came to me in a dream," says White, 68. "So I have to share what my father told me."

That message: "This is a golden opportunity for people to come together — young, old, black, white. There has to be a way we can do this together. We can create a beautiful example of how to move forward without hatred.

"This is especially important with everything that's happening now, with the Trayvon Martin case. … "

The Bro Bowl's nomination has launched a divisive controversy pitting skateboarders against city officials and black residents who want to see the park honor a different history.

The bowl is on the site of the Central Avenue area, once a thriving center of the black community with a history that dates back to the Civil War. Plans call for the bowl to be demolished as part of a $6.5 million makeover of the park, which includes a history walk dedicated to the area's black community leaders and prominent citizens.

White wants to help forge a compromise that addresses the past — the black history makers — and the future — the kids who skate in the area. He also sees a compromise as a way to educate inner-city youths about the rich history of African-Americans, stretching back to the freed slaves who settled there.

White's father, Moses, was a renowned leader of Tampa's black community. He opened his first restaurant in 1932 on Central Avenue, and it became a popular hangout, serving Ray Charles and former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. Moses White was also known for his help restoring peace during riots in 1967.

White, who attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and played for the Denver Broncos, says he was the first black player with the Cincinnati Bengals, and his last team was the San Diego Chargers, where he sustained a career-ending knee injury. White says his career included being a manager for Motown great Marvin Gaye, and he's now a retired businessman on the board of Wayfield Foods stores in Atlanta.

Because the park project includes federal money, Tampa officials will have to go through a process that evaluates the area for anything that might be considered historic. This process could have a bigger impact on the park renovations. During the process, the public is invited to discuss concerns and make suggestions about anything that might have a historical impact, including the bowl.

Some options for the bowl, White said, might include painting the structure with scenes from African-American history relating to the area, placing plaques on benches where kids could read them and constructing sculptures and busts of leaders in highly visible places. He also talked about piping in the music of black musicians such as James Brown and Jackie Wilson, along with hip-hop music, and other options could include making changes to the bowl to make it more acceptable to the black community.

"There is a way that both sides can be comfortable if they use common sense," he said.

Asked on Friday whether it's possible to look at plans for Perry Harvey Sr. Park in a way that honors both the African-American and skater historical narratives, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, "I think that will be part of the discussion.

"We have an obligation to look at all options that we have available to us," said Buckhorn, who opposes putting the Bro Bowl on the National Register. "That would not be the preferred option. I really, really don't think that this (state historic designation review board) recognized how insensitive that decision was to our African-American community."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.

Andre Moses White urges compromise in Tampa's Bro Bowl controversy 07/29/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:56am]
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