A diverse group of concerned Ocala citizens discussed issues, solutions and leadership during a two-hour session on Saturday.
Cain Davis, left, facilitated a community meeting on March 25 at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place. [Andy Fillmore]
An Ocala resident with a background in business and civil rights led a community session on March 25 that drew about 75 people to the newly opened Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place, which is named for two women who have had a deep and powerful impact in West Ocala.
Cain Davis is a University of Florida alumnus and CEO of Diversified Consulting Concepts, a consulting and training firm focused on diversity, fair housing and leadership development. He is a former director of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Civil Rights Offices in Alabama and Tennessee. He retired to Ocala from Topeka, Kansas, about two years ago and said he wants to “make a difference in the community,” along with his wife Sheni Meghani.
Davis invited concerned citizens, businesspeople, educators and elected officials to attend the meeting to discuss historical references, leadership expectations and goals, and to suggest actions to lift up the economic and personal circumstances of every member of the community. The two-hour meeting included a small group breakout session to discuss what the groups felt are the most pressing issues in Ocala’s Black community,
Davis used visuals, including one PowerPoint presentation comparing “politically driven, race centric and victim” approaches to problem solving to achieve “optimal” or better approaches to solving problems, such as those that are “strategically driven, local solution and empowerment centric.”
Davis said a focus in the community should be on “generational” businesses with “generational return on investment.” He invited the audience to be “proactive and manage their “worldview” and gave an example of how a person’s worldview can affect decision making.
“If you were in a room with white and Black people when the O.J. Simpson verdict was read, you saw their worldview,” Davis said.
One visual listed the “negative effects of a racial worldview,” which could include “division; businesses leaving the neighborhood; young people being arrested; and no need for organized religion.” Regarding politics, Davis said that, as a Christian, he asks himself “if the (candidate) lines up with my God.”
Davis said you can “look at (an individual’s) social media” to see how their worldview is shaped.
“It’s dangerous to walk around without knowing your worldview,” he said.
Davis said the Black community pays a “high price for division in our country.” He said some members of the Black community may focus their view of history on figures such as George Floyd and Breanna Taylor and overlook historically significant figures like Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her bus seat months before Rosa Parks did; Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a lead scientist on the team that developed the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine; and Nicholas Johnson, who in 2020 was Princeton University’s first Black valedictorian.
Using another visual, Davis listed leadership qualities including “message mirrors action; (being) civil and respectful to “opposition”; selfless and not profit-seeking; and system changers.” He gave examples of Christ, Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as leaders not seeking financial gain and who used language to “uplift, not the same garbage” used by some personalities.
“Opposites must be able to sit down (and) engage on moral ground,” he said. “I sat down and talked with members of the KKK and saw them become advocates for civil rights.”
After the presentation, Davis, assisted by his wife, asked attendees to form groups of about six persons per table to decide on the top issues of concern in the Black community.
Mansfield called the meeting an “eye-opener” while Bethea said the session was a “good start.” Campbell said the initiatives should “start today so tomorrow can happen.”
Jamie Gilmore, 29, and his brother, Eddie Rocker, 31, are co-founders of Kut Different, a nonprofit focused on mentoring youth. Gilmore said his breakout group found church (related) and community relations to be their top issues. Rocker commented on the multiple generations represented at the meeting. Malcolm-Omari Davis, 28, Myles McConico, 30, and Rory Carter, 41, all with Kut Different, sat with Gilmore and others. McConico said he was “encouraged” by the meeting and Carter said the suggestions offered a “beautiful vision.”
One breakout group considered “barriers in the workplace and inclusion” to be their focus and another group listed “employment and education” as the top issues.
Frank Thomas, Elgin Carelock and Sam Samuel were among those sharing thoughts after the sessions. Tara Morgan-Johnson said she felt Davis’ message was “on target” but that he was “preaching to the choir” for her and that she would like to see the message get to teenagers.
Henry DeGeneste is a retired superintendent of the Port Authority Police Department in New York, educator and Wall Street operative. He was involved with the Black Panthers movement before he retired to the Ocala area 20 years ago. He escorted famed freedom fighter Nelson Mandela around New York in the 1990s when Mandela visited the city.
“When Nelson Mandela was asked about his race, he said, ‘I’m of the human race,’” DeGeneste told the group.
More issues discussed included community involvement, mentoring, gun violence, banning automatic weapons and news reporting without bias.
Davis said as the meeting ended that many area businesspeople are not engaged in the Black community because the owners often feel “everything we do is called racist.”
He recommended forming a task force to meet monthly and charged members of the Black community to pool resources, engage business leaders and take action to empower and uplift their lives and futures.
“Create a model for success,” he challenged the attendees.