Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Politics

If activist wants changes to Brooksville's King Day parade, maybe he should volunteer

Organize an event in downtown Brooksville …

Bring in a corporate sponsor, attend meetings, deal with the hassle of traffic control …

Recruit marching bands and community organizations willing to build floats ...

Do all those things — and, along the way, fill a shameful community void — and this is the thanks you get:

A quasi-public slamming for holding the wrong kind of event in the wrong place, maybe because you were the wrong person to put it on in the first place.

On Monday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — African-American activist Richard Howell filled a south Brooksville community newsletter with a rant running down that morning's parade, which had been organized by Billy Healis, a local Walmart executive, and Paul Douglas, president of the Hernando County branch of the NAACP.

Previous King Day celebrations in Brooksville had been, and still should be, marches rather than parades, Howell wrote; after all, that's how King protested injustice — he marched.

Also, Howell continued, Monday's King Day parade followed the route of the homecoming parade of once-segregated Hernando High School and in a part of town where King was "despised and hated by most of the residents … throughout his living days."

Healis and Douglas "did not have enough knowledge" of this history, he wrote, and then repeated what he said was a common rumor — that Walmart wouldn't have put up the money for the parade had the route included Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, "the street named after the civil rights leader."

When Howell got done ripping Walmart, he turned to Douglas. Without explaining why it's relevant, he pointed out that Douglas lives not in south Brooksville, but near Healis in a mostly white neighborhood east of town.

He added that Douglas would be a better leader if he stopped his "procrastinating and working behind the backs of the citizens of south Brooksville."

Howell has a history of letting his passion for racial justice get in the way of sticking to the facts. I'm not sure how many people still listen to him or how many read his rant in the sporadically published Hernando S.B. (South Brooksville) Newsletter.

But Frankie Burnett, the city's only black City Council member, also has his name on the newsletter. He didn't return several of my calls, but Howell said Burnett agrees with at least some of his criticism of the parade.

So maybe Howell has at least some support.

Which means it's worth pointing out that, on many of his facts and just about all of his opinions, he's dead wrong.

Healis and Douglas originally planned to follow the route of earlier King Day marches, but changed it because the city asked them to — and the city asked because it already had a traffic plan in place for parades on Howell Avenue.

Healis and Douglas agreed to this change not because they are ignorant of history, but because they thought it was fitting for a once-segregated white neighborhood to host a parade in honor of our country's leading advocate of integration.

Most of all, Howell should remember that they got started organizing the parade — or Healis did, actually, because he was the one who offered Walmart's help to Douglas — mostly because the local NAACP has a long history of not doing nearly enough.

For more than two decades, there's been drama associated with the approach of King Day.

Would the NAACP get it together to submit its application for the road closure permit it needed? Would it raise enough insurance money?

Some years, the march was drastically shortened. Other years, the day was marked only by a picnic at Kennedy Park.

And for the last two years, there was neither — only a church service and, Howell told me, a meal hosted by the Frederick Kelly Elks Lodge in south Brooksville.

Does this mean that Howell is totally out of line, that public events in Brooksville are off limits to questioning and criticism?

Of course not. But any critic should keep in mind that it takes a lot of work to stage these events — and that if you want them done your way, you can always put them on yourself.

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