A meeting Tuesday night to help bring awareness to minorities turned emotional at times as the 52 diverse participants bounced ideas off each other in an effort to develop an action plan.
Sponsored by the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, the unity action meeting at the George Washington Carver Center in Crystal River was designed as a brainstorming session to highlight the economic opportunities available for minorities and solicit the group’s priorities to build bridges in the community.
Tammy Langley, pastor of Citadel of Life in Inverness, said she almost didn’t attend the meeting for fear it would be more talk and no action. Instead, Langley delivered the night’s most impassioned speech by stressing that the solution to inclusion and unity begins at the school level and tailoring the curriculum to promote student achievement instead of assuming students will not be able to succeed.
“We have to change the system to change the system,” said Langley, a principal in Lake County.
Chamber board chairman Harold Walker started off the event by assuring folks that his organization is serious about developing an action plan and not just talking. Walker said the racial turmoil in the country created the urgency for Tuesday’s meeting.
The Rev. Pastor Doug Alexander, who earlier this year hosted community action meetings in his New Church Without Walls, said the need is there to help African Americans and all ethnic groups in Citrus County find employment and become more unified.
Al Hopkins, pastor of Redemption Center Church in Crystal River, said local leaders must do more to stem the exodus of young people from leaving Citrus County upon graduation. Dialogue is needed, he said, between students and the people who have the power to create jobs.
Mayol Gutierrez, who works for Citrus County Schools, said everyone in the room Tuesday night needs to “become the bridge” to help unite the community.
Chamber president Josh Wooten said he’s formed a diversity committee committed to help link minority business owners to state and federal programs, including Citrus County CARES.
“Our job is to lift up this community and enhance our quality of life,” he said.
The attendees then broke up into small groups to discuss ways to achieve unity and advance racial equity.
After the groups’ unity ideas were shared, members voted on what they saw as the top priorities. Chamber officials will now formalize those priorities, let all members know the outcome and schedule another meeting to move them forward.
Tiarra Alexander, daughter of Doug Alexander and member of the chamber’s Young Professionals, expressed admiration for all those involved in Tuesday’s assembly.
“I’m proud my community is doing something at all,” she said. “Lots of communities have talked about it but have done nothing at all.”
Alexander said she is confident the people at Tuesday’s gathering will follow up on the properties taken from the small groups and act on them.
“(Citrus County) is a community that’s willing to work together,” she said. “No one person is seeking accolades. They’re all doing it.”
Veronica Kampschroer, chairwoman of the Young Professionals, said she was impressed by the diversity at the meeting. Participants of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds were there, she said, to come up with a plan.
“I think we’re in a very good place to bring these initiatives forward,” she said.
Pastor Alexander said he was pleased with the evening’s outcome.
“We’ve got some work to do,” he said. “But this was a really big breakthrough for us.”
Walker said Tuesday’s gathering accomplished its purpose.
“One thing is certain — if we don’t change the system, it’s not going to change,” said Walker, impressed by the emotion from attendees.
“We’re going to make something happen,” he said.