By Christina Ottersbach
A small group of individuals from all walks of life gather in South Brooksville for a common purpose of picking up trash and debris along its neighborhood streets. A mix of local leaders, residents, and caring citizens met on St. Francis Street to start the morning with a free Chick-Fil-A breakfast and plenty of time to introduce new faces.
The beautification initiative, led by Reverend Dr. Emery Ailes of Pristine Baptist Church, shared why the mission goes beyond just picking up trash. As he points to the children out in their yards, Rev. Ailes explains how it’s about showing pride in your community and leading by example for our children.
Although the primary purpose of the community’s mission is to pick up trash and debris, volunteers can agree that the experience was much more. For inquiring minds, like that of school board candidate Laura Dedmon, volunteers willingly shared many stories and personal experiences about the local black history – the families who once lived there, their impact on the community, and what life was like during the Jim Crow Era.
As the crew worked along B.E.S.T. Academy, retired D.S. Parrott math teacher, Walt Moore, shared his memories of what was once the Brooksville (Moton) Colored School that serviced all students in the black community from elementary to high school before integration in 1968. Mr. Moore pointed out to each classroom and the teachers that taught inside them. He then proceeded to point to the adjacent houses and the teachers who lived inside them. “There was a time,” Mr. Moore explained, “when the teachers lived in the same neighborhoods where they worked.”
The clean up ended with a prayer and was followed by fellowship at the Fredrick Kelley Elks Lodge #1270. Hernando United School Workers’ President, Kojack Burnett, and Florida Representative, Robert Moore Sr., shared similar stories of their childhood experiences. During our discussion, Robert Moore called his mother, Flora Douglas, to share her school memories in Brooksville during the 1940s. She clearly recalled having to be pulled out of school to work in the nearby citrus groves. Having to miss school to be sought for labor was something Flora strongly detested and would oftentimes run away from when summoned.
All men were in consensus when it came to discussing the difficulties of breaking through the vicious cycle brought on by racism and poverty. In their opinion, one can easily become accustomed to living a life on government assistance. Through their example and their various missions, such as this beautification project, these men strive to show the next generation the power and the promise of breaking through difficult barriers. “I would like to see St. Francis Street renamed to Strivers Street,” Rev. Ailes stated, “in honor of all of the black educators who lived here and strived for a better life for themselves and their community.”
The South Brooksville Community Relations Neighborhood Beautification will resume from 9:00 am to 11:00 am on the following dates:
Gloves, effervescent vests, garbage bags, and masks will be provided. Closed toed shoes are strongly encouraged. The event is open to everyone and will meet promptly at 9:00 am on St. Francis Street directly across from the B.E.S.T. academy. Volunteers can park on the corner of St. Francis and Middleboro Street.