Flagler County, FL – It was a feel good gathering with local speakers and some live music thrown in for good measure that helped send out positive vibes to several dozen attendees to honor the culmination of Black History Month, on Saturday.
Presented by the Flagler County Branch #5147 NAACP, President Shelley Ragsdale was among those hoping to continue to move the needle forward when talking about “equality and equity for all”.
Joined by speakers like Pastor Sims Jones, Dr. Mark Anderson, and Carl Jones, the topic of racial equality was front and center, as was a call for unity among people.
Chatting with folks about a new organization, Myra Middleton Valentine talked with several dozen attendees who settled in early around the stage area of Central Park, about SURJ – Showing Up for Racial Justice.
“We’re an organized group and love how we’re trying to partner with other groups who are fighting for social justice, racial justice, and equality,” said Valentine who sees communication as a key to helping society be a better place. “I think we just have to be open, have open dialogue, conversations about everything.”
A native Floridian, Valentine grew up around the Daytona Beach area before moving to Flagler County two decades ago.
“I’m well aware of the history of Flagler County and unfortunately it has not been good. But I’ve lived here in Flagler County for 21 years and I’ve seen progress slowly coming. We’ve got to talk to each other about issues and work together.”
Helping organize the day’s event, Elizabeth Gustafson helps bring a youthful perspective to the conversation and why the day’s activities were important to her.
“There are many reasons why – especially with the Black Lives Matter movement going on, and racial injustices are growing in general against Mexicans, against Asians. I think it’s really important that something is done, especially in Flagler County, which was the last county to desegregate,” she said.
It’s about helping those in the middle find common ground, and Gustafson shared her opinion on how to make it better, starting in Flagler County.
“In my personal experience and reading stories nationwide, I feel like it’s two-fold. I feel like a lot of people are coming together but there’s just like a small faction that is dividing,” she explained.
“I think it goes back to it not being a political issue – it’s a human rights issue. It should not be political whatsoever,” she said. “I think it just comes down to more events, getting into the school system, talking more about it. It shouldn’t be a big secret or talked about in such a way that it’s very hush-hush.”
While closing out Black History Month, Ragsdale said he hopes to see more inclusive history continue to be celebrated all year long.
“They say in order to move forward, you must understand your past, so Black History is not a month, it’s history, period,” he said. “We have had so many innovative people to do things to make this country, our country, the United States of America a better place to live in.”
Part of history is respecting the lives of those different from one’s own, and recalling his days of youth, sharing meals with neighbors who were Italian, for Ragsdale, the answer is simple.
“We live in a society that is becoming more and more divided. I believe in a whole homogeneous society,” he said. “We all must live together and learn to love one another. Hate is a taught element. We should not hate anyone – we should always respect people and look at people with love in your heart. We should not fight each other.”
“We need to take all of the knowledge that we have, all the love in our hearts and put them together and say enough is enough. Silence is not the answer and we must be vocal in what we do,” Ragsdale continued. “I’m going to fight for anyone who needs help.”
“People always say to me ‘Why do you have to say Black Lives Matter’ and we tell them, the emphasis is on Our Lives Matter, too’”, he said. “It’s not that your life does not matter, it’s our lives, all lives, matter.”