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People gather at table of brotherhood

Over a Sunday afternoon potluck dinner, they exchanged stories of illicit swimming during their childhoods.

Brooksville police Officer Eddie McConnell and his friends rode bicycles down a steep hill and jumped into a public swimming pool overflowing with excess rainwater.

The Rev. Nathaniel Sims of Bethlehem Baptist Church braved a switching from his mother to swim in a snake-infested pond.

"We'd do it every time she wasn't looking," he said as he finished off his chocolate dessert. "We didn't have a lot of money so we had to be creative."

Last month, the Brooksville City Council made a proclamation declaring March 9 Brotherhood Day. The men were among about two dozen people who gathered for a dinner at the Jerome Brown Center in Brooksville to commemorate the event.

"We're just talking about the old days and having a ball," said Eddie McConnell, who was raised in Brooksville. "I wouldn't trade those times for anything. We didn't think about prejudice. It just never occurred to us."

Times, the men agreed, were easier decades ago.

"People don't take the time to sit down and get to know one another" nowadays, Sims said. "When you start doing this, then you'll be able to do other things in the community."

As they reminisced about the taste of salted peanuts in a bottle of Coke and of chocolate MoonPies, they said that a form of communication is being lost in the era of the Internet and the cell phone.

"You never get to know somebody until you sit down and talk with them," said event organizer Doug Davis. "Until you share a meal and find out who they are as a person, you can't know where they're coming from."

The event was inspired by words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous 1963 speech: "I have a dream that one day . . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down at a table of brotherhood."

"We need something to bring us together besides a funeral," said event organizer JoAnn Munford. "We need something besides tragedy to unite us. We need to come together for the betterment of our community."

Though this year's attendance was light, Munford said she is confident that those who came will return and bring more people with them next year.

"Like a kernel of corn can grow an entire stalk," she said. "The seeds we plant here will grow."