Take time to practice Dr. King's dream

Published January 9, 2007

Fewer than 3 percent of the 135,000 people in Citrus County are black. Yet many of those families have been around for several generations. They're proud of their history, proud of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. symbolizes.

So this weekend, like their counterparts elsewhere around the country, they're planning a memorial church service and a parade to celebrate Dr. King' birthday.

But before the singing and marching, they're going to tackle some serious stuff. They've organized summits to focus on two endangered species - black businesses and black teens. What a great way to use this high profile weekend.

Citrus is home to a smattering of small black-owned businesses - barber shops, auto detailers, hair and nail salons, building contractors, restaurants. Most aren't connected to either the local political power base or the economic base.

That's a chronic complaint organizers of this weekend's minority business summit are trying to correct.

There are a few exceptions, and the promise of more. William Bunch's Oysters Restaurant in Crystal River, for instance, is a favorite meeting spot for local civic groups.

Minority-owned businesses need to learn how to market themselves, how to advertise, how to network, how to do the things that the establishment takes for granted. They're not a big part of the local chamber of commerce or the Rotary.

"They're not in the inner circle," said one of the summit's organizers, Bishop Leonard Smith, who heads Fountain of Life Restoration Ministries.

His cousin, Sam Joyner, 75, owns Joyner's Masonry and Concrete Work Inc. Joyner is considered to be the first black millionaire in Citrus.

It takes much more than a business summit to make a business succeed, but this is an important start. For Smith and the other organizers, trying to improve black small businesses is part of accomplishing Dr. King's dream - from equal opportunity to seizing opportunity.

Which brings us to the question of teens. Many black teens are discouraged, too disconnected to see, much less seize, all those opportunities that Dr. King made possible. The teen summit is a small first step towards reversing that.

Andrea McCray-Holly, one of the organizers, is an example of what happens when teens are guided toward positive goals, such as college and business careers.

After high school, the Crystal River native left for the University of Florida. Later she lived in Dallas, where she worked in corporate America and owned a bakery on the side.

McCray-Holly, 33, came home in November to help take care of her mother and grandmother. It's often difficult for people who have lived in the big city to jump back into small town life. She felt compelled to do that.

"You see the needs here," she said. "Someone has to be an agent of change."

This is home. What better place to practice Dr. King's dream?

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.

MLK events

The theme of the Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend Celebration in Citrus County is "The Color of Love."

Here's the schedule:

-Minority Business Summit: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church, 4221 W Gulf to Lake Highway (State Road 44). No cost. Advance registration is required. Call 220-8154 or 601-4101 or check www.cafcc.net.

-Teen Summit: 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Crystal River Middle School, 344 NE Crystal St. To register, call the above-listed numbers or check the Web site.

-Communitywide Fellowship Service: 5 p.m. Sunday at Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church, 4221 W Gulf to Lake Highway (SR 44).

-Parade and community celebration: 10 a.m. Monday. Parade begins at Crystal River Middle School and ends near Copeland Park, site of the community celebration.