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Task force hopes to erase divisive lines

(ran PC edition)

After 35 years of working with schoolchildren, Claudette Davis learned that appreciation for diversity should be taught from a young age.

She thinks Zephyrhills, after a controversy over a street renaming, needs a refresher course.

Davis, 58, joined a task force created to address divisions that emerged last fall when the City Council voted to rename Sixth Avenue after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The group, which has 10 members from in and around the city, will meet for the first time at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council chambers at City Hall on Fifth Avenue. The public is invited.

"I think it's so important to start with our young children and teach them about all the diversity that we have in this world," she said.

Learning about diversity, Davis said, will result in appreciation of it.

She wants to establish a "culture center" that will showcase different traditions, holidays and pieces of history that reflect the cultural richness of Zephyrhills' residents.

"If we could show pictures of cultures and maybe the different holidays, then the children could see," she said. "We have people from all over the world here."

Davis said she learned a lot working alongside a black schoolteacher at Moore Mickens Elementary. Davis retired recently as secretary at West Zephyrhills Elementary.

She said her mother was Hispanic, and her daughters both married Hispanic men. She calls herself a "Southern girl" and proclaims pride in her heritage.

That's the perspective Davis brings to the group. City officials had hoped to attract people with a wide range of experiences and perspectives. Here are the other members:

+ Danny Burgess Jr., a member of the Zephyrhills City Youth Council.

+ Buddy Hollyfield, longtime pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Zephyrhills who recently retired.

+ Bob Loring, who heads Toys for Tots in east Pasco.

+ The Rev. Freddie Hinson, a minister in Hudson whose church has worked to form interracial partnerships with other congregations.

+ Jim Tenney, a downtown saddle shop owner who said during the street controversy that he supported honoring King but objected to the City Council's handling of the process.

+ Blanche Benford, a retired Wesley Chapel woman who spoke at council meetings in support of the name change.

+ Pat Burke, a Crystal Springs resident who has run for Pasco County Commission and the state House of Representatives.

+ Daniel Hill, a school resource officer and the city's first African-American police officer.

+ Stan Roller, a local mortgage broker and president of Florida West Coast Triangle Caucus, a newly formed advocacy group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

City Manager Steve Spina said he has two goals for the group.

"I just hope it'll help us first assess where we are in terms of diversity and race and religion, all kinds of things," he said. "And then maybe I hope they can help us look at ways to bring people together a little bit and not have some of the divisions that still seem to be there simmering below the surface."

Davis, who has lived in Zephyrhills for 35 years, said the reaction to the street renaming, in which residents turned out in force to express their views but were largely divided along racial lines, was disappointing.

"I've seen (Zephyrhills) go so far," Davis said. "It saddened me to see the effect it had."