Query any Florida resident on the state’s most celebrated neighborhoods and Lake Mary — the City of Lakes — will roll off tongues with the ease of Southern living that locals have enjoyed since its inception. The city became an incorporated municipality in 1973 and has bloomed beautifully. It was rated No. 4 in Florida as the “Best Place” to live by Money Magazine in 2007 and ranked as one of the best towns for families by Family Circle magazine in 2014.
Sound prestigious? Tanya and Allan Coffin thought so.
Last year, the British couple left London and relocated to Lake Mary to stake claim on the American dream. Eight months ago they opened Royals English Tea Room, known for its exotic dried tea, crumpets and scones shipped from abroad, and Her Majesty’s Favorite, a strawberries-and-cream dessert.
“We used to visit Orlando for holiday and asked about the area,” says Tanya Coffin. “While dining, a server told us about Lake Mary and described it as heaven on earth. After a few visits, we knew this was the place for us.” The couple were impressed by the town’s cleanliness and inviting people. And then, they found the ideal business location on Country Club Road.
Versini’s Italian Ice was opened in 2010 by a Portuguese family who also found the neighborhood and real estate ideal. “Lake Mary has great people and my business has thrived,” says owner F. Versini, whose sons attended Lake Mary High School, chosen by Versini because it boasts one of Florida’s highest graduation rates. A place like Versini’s, serving gelati and ice cream topped with Ghirardelli chocolate sauce, was a great addition to the neighborhood.
Over the years, Lake Mary has emerged as the destination of choice for a global mosaic of ethnicities, working-class residents, entrepreneurs and native townsfolk. Together, they harmoniously mesh as a laid-back, family-oriented community that is the hallmark of Lake Mary. Impressive commentary for a legacy that began as secluded swampland infinitely surrounded by sabal palms and mammoth oaks swathed in Spanish moss.
According to archived legend, Lake Mary is the town that Frank Evans built, shaping it from an old-fashioned cliché into a prosperous civilization. Dusty dirt trails were paved into roads for transportation on Schwinn bicycles long before bikes with banana seats were cool. The paths were shared with the exhaust and raucous horn honks of Ford Model-T automobiles.
Homes were humble and the lone general store likely sold crisp pickles in barrels. A pharmacy, railroad station, one-room schoolhouse and civic government emerged along with cultural offerings that included an orchestra.
Gas was one gallon for a quarter, and a nickel bought a bumpy train ride. A single dime admitted Charlie Chaplin fans into cinemas for nine cents, and the spare penny was enough for a sack of salty popcorn.
Sound nostalgic? Sure, but that was so yesterday. Take a quantum leap into the 21st century.
An urban infrastructure created the heavily traveled Interstate-4 exchange that exits directly onto Lake Mary Boulevard. The thriving, wide four-lane thoroughfare winds through miles of breathtaking, green scenery with blades of grass that vertically salute the sun. And save for the steady hum of engines in the luxury cars that steadily zoom by, it can be surprisingly quiet.
One stretch of the boulevard is happily saturated with retail and marquee signs that beckon middle-class and affluent residents to shop and solicit services such as cosmetic dentistry and exclusive real estate.
Alcoves at outdoor plazas are complemented by eateries that boast free Wi-Fi and tempt insatiable appetites. Among the offerings are Keller’s smoked barbe-cue ribs and menus featuring grilled burgers topped with crumbled bleu cheese and loaded with sautéed onions and mushrooms.
Sound enticing? Indeed, and most locals would concur.
Lake Mary is both a neighborhood and an experience that invites you to start your day with an all-American breakfast at Appleton’s Café — a 30-year tradition where native New Yorker Tricia Rodriguez delivers quick service to some 500 patrons on Saturdays. Omelets are fluffed from cracked eggs and ingredients are chopped daily. African-American “Chef T” will slay your palate with her homemade buttermilk biscuits, and breakfast is served all day, but you’ll want to come for lunch before the chicken salad sells out.
“We love the friendly people, and the portions are worth the price,” says the regular customer Sam Bellamy, a first vice president for USB Financial Services who visits frequently with his wife Krista and their two daughters.
“The girls love the themed holiday decorations and, of course, the pancakes,” he says with a smile that concurs.
Travel the boulevard south and visit the Saturday Farmers Market surrounded by eclectic shops, children playing and groomed pets on leashes. Free Zumba is taught to a Latin beat, and shoppers pick up local honey and gourmet popcorn sold in rainbow flavors including tutti-frutti.
“I started selling family pasta and pickle recipes at the market a year ago following my husband’s stroke,” shares Shelly Mottram, a Sicilian whose Backyard Blends products include jars of various green salsas, including a candied jalapeño version. “We’ve met so many friendly people here and love this market atmosphere.”
From the Lake Mary Heathrow Festival of the Arts to Dexter’s Sunday jazz brunch, the overarching Lake Mary theme is that everyone is welcome, accepted and encouraged to stay.
Since the murder of his youngest son, Ron Davis has become a national advocate for justice.
BY PENNY DICKERSON FLORIDA COURIER
Father’s Day celebrations are tough for Ron Davis. The June holiday reserved for Hallmark cards and the gifting of new ties has remained solemn since the Nov. 23, 2012 death of his 17-year-old son, Jordan.
Davis said he will spend Father’s Day clutching the final letter Jordan wrote. In it, Jordan declared his dad his “hero.”
The student at Samuel Wolfson High School in Jacksonville was killed when Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old White male, sprayed a round of bullets into the parked SUV at a Jacksonville gas station where Davis and three friends were listening to rap music. Continue Reading »
Andrew Gillum, Patrick Cannon, Ray Nagin, Kwame Kilpatrick, Marion Barry, Richard Thomas and Catherine Pugh all share a common title: Black American mayors. They share a common fate, too. They have either been accused of criminal behavior; been previously or is currently being investigated; or worse, been imprisoned in connection with the job of leading a municipality. At a minimum, when the government comes sniffing, it leaves reputations in tatters.
This is but a shortlist of Black power symbols, either toppled or shaken during their meteoric rise, while they tried to transform underserved communities.
In the book, “African-American Mayors: Race, Politics, and the African-American City,” political historians David R. Colburn and Jeffrey S. Adler aptly illustrate their plight:
“Black mayors assumed office during economic downturns and confronted the intractable problems of decaying inner cities, while flight, a dwindling tax base, violent crime, and diminishing federal support for social programs. Many encountered hostility from their own parties, city councils, and police departments; others worked against long-established power structures dominated by local business owners or politicians. Still others, while trying to respond to multiple demands from a diverse constituency, were viewed as traitors by Blacks expecting special attention from a leader of their own race.”
Black mayors demonstrate how the same circumstances that set the stage for the victories can exaggerate the obstacles and accusations. For Florida, bitter is the memory of not only the defeat of former Tallahassee mayor, Gillum, but also a mounting probe that some say was a direct cause.
In January, Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause to investigate Gillum, who allegedly received gifts valued over $100 while in office in the form of a stay at a Costa Rica Villa, a Broadway ticket and a boat ride. Ethics commission advocate Elizabeth Miller recently requested that Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early delay a decision in Gillum’s hearing for five months to accommodate the mayor’s former comrade-turned-Judas, lobbyist Adam Corey, who insists his ill attorney’s presence is essential for him to testify.
Two weeks ago, Early received yet one more motion by Miller to hold the record open until August and defer any judgment.
Gillum is represented by Barry Richard, a prominent Tallahassee attorney who once represented George W. Bush in legal battles over the 2000 presidential election.
“Granting the motion to hold the evidence open until August would render the denial of a continuance meaningless, and [Gillum] would still be forced to wait several months with a cloud hanging over his head,” Richard said.
Dark days for Black mayors
That cloud has become a familiar threat following a wave of Black mayors who have positively transformed American municipalities formerly plagued by violent crime, poor education and quality of life. In ground-breaking elections, these audacious leaders defeated incumbents, most have enjoyed a season as media darlings and some are singled-out as futurists by analysts nationwide.
By all accounts, Black mayors are their own new black until the emergence of a crippling shift — allegations of corruption are lobbied. These charges, which have the dubious commonality of emerging following an FBI presence, run the gamut from ethics misconduct to conflict-of-interest and criminality. Too often, they relegate Black mayors from an illuminated status to being blindsided targets who suffer public disdain. The frequency of their fall has created a historical quandary.
Patrick Cannon is 52 years old and made a quantum leap from mayor of Charlotte to ex-convict. In 2014, he was released from a Federal Corrections Institution in Morgantown where he served half of a 44-month sentence on charges of accepting more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents; two years of supervised release followed. Cannon paid a $10,000 fine and $50,000 in restitution, and resides in suburban Charlotte where he hosts a community affairs radio program.
Additionally, he is a corporate and skilled labor executive and a marketing and business development consultant. There is buzz of a political comeback. Cannon may run for one of the four at-large council seats, which many believe is a precursor to a congressional bid in 2020. (Filings are July 5 – 19; election Nov. 5). Cannon first won a council seat in 2011 prior to being elected mayor.
In 2013, Cannon was elected mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. Five months into his term, he was arrested and charged with accepting more than $48,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen seeking city contracts. Cannon served half of a 44-month sentence.
Nagin, former New Orleans mayor, was convicted in 2014 on 20 counts of wire fraud, bribery and money laundering related to Hurricane Katrina. He was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Former mayor of Detroit, Kilpatrick is serving 28 years in a federal prison for mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering.
And the demise of Capital City Mayor Marion Barry arguably reigns as the most prolific example of a Black mayor who both murdered and resuscitated his own career. Barry was an unwitting part of a 1990 FBI sting. He was videotaped in a hotel room smoking crack cocaine, arrested and subsequently sentenced to six months in federal prison. Upon his 1992 release, Barry was elected to the D.C. city council and re-elected mayor in 1995.
Marvin Dunn, a Black historian, and former city of Miami mayoral candidate, acknowledges that Black politicians are more vulnerable.
“Once you become high profile, you’re subject to investigation. You’re over-policed by media and prosecutors looking for dirt,” he said. “There is a certain amount of targeting going on.”
Data and demographics
Suffice to say that life for the Black mayor “ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up.” This excerpt from Langston Hughes’ iconic poem is an unfortunate fit for a political cohort that simultaneously grows and weakens.
“Black mayors in big cities are already surrounded by criminal activity,” said Dunn, retired chairman, of the Department of Psychology, at Florida International University. “There is a higher propensity for bribes, extortion and black mail – significantly more than in suburban areas. There is greater temptation.”
According to governing.com, a digital platform for “States and Localities,” “In 2000, there were 19 Black mayors in the 50 largest American cities. In 2018, there were seven … .”
“Part of the challenge is many African-Americans have left places … where Black politicians once held significant power,” offered Michael Leo Owens, an Emory University political scientist.
On April 2, the people of Chicago proved political power is still theirs.
Lori Lightfoot was elected the first Black woman mayor. A campaign long-shot, Lightfoot swept all of Chicago’s 50 wards. When she’s sworn in on May 20 as the city’s 56th mayor, will she dodge scrutiny or join the statistical ranks of Black mayors whose triumph historically comes under attack?
Relegate the rising stars
Gillum championed America’s political landscape when he was elected Tallahassee mayor in 2014. He inherited Leon County, a mecca for higher education but the state’s leader in crime according to data and a city where murder reached record highs. Among his intrepid moves, in 2015, Gillum petitioned former Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency that would suspend the “Stand Your Ground” law.
The Miami native lost that battle, but later won a political war: he was elected the 2018 democratic nominee for governor to become Florida’s first Black gubernatorial candidate. Following a dynamic campaign that garnered a razor-thin margin of votes, Gillum conceded to Republican opponent Rick DeSantis. Now, Gillum’s days are shadowed by accusations, juxtaposed against New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s label as one of his “14 Young Democrats to Watch.”
New mayor, same pattern
On April 5, Douglas J. Martino of the New York firm Martino & Weiss, filed a “Motion to Dismiss” charges that likely shouldn’t exist against their client, Mayor Richard Thomas of Mount Vernon, New York.
An excerpt reads: “The mayor is being selectively charged with campaign violations that at worst should have been processed administratively and two counts of filing allegedly false Financial Forms with the City Ethics Board for crimes that not only do not exist … . Moreover, because the Mount Vernon Board of Ethics is illegally constituted, the charges involving required campaign reporting are non-existent and must be dismissed.”
In 2018, Thomas was arraigned on criminal charges as part of a local government corruption probe by the New York State Attorney General’s Office initiated days after Thomas won his 2015 primary. The state inquiry led to local government matters and campaign finance technicalities. Now, he faces charges of third-degree larceny and filing false information with the city’s Board of Ethics. Thomas pled not guilty and was freed without bail.
Thomas catapulted his way onto the political scene in 2015 when he was elected the city’s youngest mayor in Mount Vernon in a landslide victory. He was 33, married with two young children, educated and with his boyish good looks, any political consultant would dub him a constituent magnet.
Qualified for greatness
The City of Hope’s optimistic leader earned both a bachelor’s degree in economics and an executive MBA in finance and leadership from New York University’s prestigious Leonard N. Stern School of Business; he additionally studied at The London School of Economics & Political Science. A reverent think-tank who excels in due diligence, quantitative analysis, branding and marketing, Thomas previously served as executive director for the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance and regional director for the New York State governor’s office.
But, despite pristine qualifications that precede political zeal and proven electability, Thomas stands accused of “stealing more than $12,000 from his campaign committee “Friends of Richard Thomas” and then lying about it. He is also accused of failing to report items on his city ethics forms that are not legally required and was indicted for not reporting said items before the deadline to submit the forms. Westchester County Court Judge Barry Warhit will likely set a trial date and hear arguments on the dismissal of counts 7 and 8 on April 19.
A Bevy of bravos
The beauty of the Baltimore Harbor has long remained a backdrop to the city’s poverty, violent crime and burgeoning drug trade. Eliminating the latter three has been an impossibility, but curtailing their dominance is one that Mayor Pugh has tackled both with grace and success.
Pugh has earned a bevy of bravos. She pursued an aggressive agenda to revitalize neighborhoods, create pathways of opportunity for young people and enhance the safety of citizens, while ushering in a new era of community policing and accountability within the Baltimore Police Department.
Circa 2019 — Pugh is on an indefinite leave of absence as mayor of Baltimore due to health. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has asked the state prosecutor to investigate Pugh regarding a conflict of interest stemming from an alleged no-bid book deal with the University of Maryland Medical System valued at $500,000. It is alleged that the university benefited from more than 40 bills sponsored/co-sponsored by Pugh while she served on the board of directors and subsequently purchased copies of Pugh’s self-published “Healthy Holly” books for children, which were then distributed to Baltimore schools and daycare centers. Pugh was paid $500,000 for 100,000 books over the course of five transactions in years 2012 – 2018.
In a statement to the New York Times, state comptroller Peter Franchot stated, “This is a window into the shadowy, seamy side of politics, where powerful insiders self-deal. I haven’t gotten over the shock of it. It’s almost juvenile.” Franchot has called for an independent audit.
Less reported are numerous occasions when Pugh donated free books to neighborhood events. While she has been asked to resign, Pugh does not face charges.
Same treatment for white mayors?
Political corruption is not specific to Blacks. White mayors and politicians have also been subjects of investigations, convicted and jailed. However, disparity reigns, as recent history reveals that the treatment of Black and white mayors is not the same.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, back in the spring of 2017, narrowly escaped federal indictment on corruption charges of pay-to-play. He allegedly used city money to successfully defend himself from various election and government corruption allegations. One of de Blasio’s top campaign donors was convicted, yet the mayor stated the case, “didn’t involve him.” De Blasio has moved forward without recompense of lingering clouds and is courting a 2020 presidential bid.
Thomas of Mount Vernon identifies a disturbing pattern: “The history of attacks on Black mayors is troubling. If you are bold and buck the system to benefit the people, the system strikes back by any means necessary. The pattern and practice suggest that there is a double standard. This is why the next generation of leaders must level up to survive the suppression and seize every incremental opportunity to protect the people.”
Photo: Olean McCaskill in her celebrated soul-food eatery, Olean’s.TALLAHASSEE, Fla.–The roots of soul food run deep within the annals of African American living. The South reigns as king of soul food cuisine. Its origins can be traced back to slavery when plantation owners allowed enslaved Africans to cook and eat only what known as the hog’s undesirable leftovers, the ears, feet, tail, stomach and the intestinal tract known as chitterlings or in the Southern vernacular, simply “chitlins.”
Hey travelers, don’t sleep on the Central Florida haven. It’s so much more than you thought.
Don’t get me wrong ─ Mickey Mouse and Tinker Bell’s pixie dust still rule, but the city of Orlando, Florida’s tourism epicenter also embodies a plethora of treasures designed to satisfy the adult travelers’ insatiable thirsts. Forget packing the kids and a salivating Labrador in the family SUV for a multi-day, whine-a-thon. It’s the 21st Century folks. It’s time for some “Grown Folks Magic!”
The new kid on the block and beacon of light in the city skyline is the Aloft─the quintessential hotel and hub for millennium travelers seeking “style at a steal.” The usual bells and whistles dubbed amenities are inclusive, but these rooms boast some serious cool; the sleek ambiance alone frees endorphins. Eclectic décor complements massive living space and mature guests gather nightly in the WXYZ lounge for wasabi almonds and Smirnoff smiles.
Valet park and experience frugality with finesse by engaging downtown Orlando on foot ─ grown folks hate traffic! Cultural entertainment is on deck at Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center (November 2014) and a brisk walk several blocks leads to Church Street Station for hip nightlife and diverse dining from sushi to subs. Start with happy hour and end with midnight martinis. All choices in between are ideal for responsible adults perusing town sans wheels. When you’re ready to bounce, Orlando Magic hoops are a trek away at the Amway Center.
But, what about your inner child? For those who still crave youthful engagement, I’ve got three words for you: The History Center. This multicultural museum is “Smart, Surprising, Fun” and welcomes The Art of Warner Bros. Cartoons through March 2014. So, get ready to revive your Looney Tunes memories. What know this generation about a Wabbit or a Putty cat? Orlando is the popular cultural capital of the world for its theme park allure, but this exploratory jewel is so inexpensive, it’s free every Monday during the summer. “Grown Folks” love free!
Hidden in the heart of Orlando’s municipal district, the Orange County Regional History Center is a Smithsonian Institute affiliate encompassing four floors of a restored 1927 courthouse. Interactive limited release exhibits complement permanent installations like the impressive How Distant Seems Our Starting Place. James Weldon Johnson’s poignant poem birthed the title and patrons of every race can celebrate African-American heritage. Ancestral beginnings progress to an awareness of Central Florida trailblazers like Bessie Coleman, the nation’s first licensed black pilot; Folklorist and author Zora Neale Hurston; and Paul Perkins, the areas first black lawyer.
Meet the Mack Daddy of Magic in exhibits that chronicle how Walt Disney altered the city landscape with a world that now includes Africa ─ no passport required. A short drive invites you to indulge the Disney Animal Kingdom Resort and Serengeti. Embrace authentic African cuisine at Jiko [The Cooking Place] or head back to town for soul food at Chef Eddies, a 40- year legacy.
For business or just a quick getaway: visit Orlando. It’s ripe with options and “grown folks” love alternatives. —Penny Dickerson
Najee among top artists at 11th annual music festival in Miami Gardens
Jazz great Najee is scheduled to perform Saturday, March 19, at the 11th annual Jazz in the Gardens in Miami Beach. His performance repertoire primarily will be a 30-year anniversary tribute to “Najee’s Theme. He’ll also be joined on stage by Regina Belle and Alex Bugnon.
Three days of soulful and sultry music returns to the City of Miami Gardens March 18-20 for the 11th Annual Jazz in the Gardens (JITG) Music Festival at Sun Life Stadium. Continue Reading »
A SELECTED GROUP OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS GOT A CHANCE TO BE ENERGIZED TO ACHIEVE THEIR DREAMS DURING A WEEKEND SYMPOSIUM AT WALT DISNEY WORLD.
LAKE BUENA VISTA – The genesis of their dreams are humble: a coal miner’s son from Welch, W. Va., who slept in his car for three years; an intern who drove cross-country in her Volkswagen Rabbit to work for the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico; and a high school dropout who changed the trajectory of film and theme parks with a rough sketch of a mouse.
Respectively, they are now a trifecta of success – daytime Emmy Award-winning comedian and talk show host Steve Harvey; Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter; and film and animation icon Walt Disney, whose eponymous Walt Disney World resort hosted the Disney Dreamers Academy with Harvey and ESSENCE Magazine March 21-24 at Lake Buena Vista.
Harvey has served as a signature host of the program for 12 consecutive years. Applicants responded to essay questions about their personal stories and dreams, and 100 providential students were selected to attend along with a parent or guardian.
Known as “Disney Dreamers,” they each received an all-expenses-paid trip and an opportunity to gather a lifetime of dreams.
TWELVE YEARS A DREAM
Since its 2007 inception, the inclusive program has catapulted the dreams of more than 1,200 students from across the nation by exposing them to a career-discovery journey that inspires them to discover new career opportunities, pursue their dreams, and interact with participating celebrities and motivational speakers.
Steve Harvey inspires students Friday, March 22, 2019, during Disney Dreamers Academy at Epcot in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 12th annual Disney Dreamers Academy, taking place March 21-24, 2019 is a career-inspiration program for distinguished high school students from across the U.S. (Todd Anderson, photographer)
“My hope is these Disney Dreamers realize there are no limits to what they can achieve,” said Steve Harvey. “All the amazing people they had the chance to hear from this weekend had to start somewhere, and I am excited to see where the dreams of these 100 students take them. That is why I enjoy partnering with Disney on this program every year.”