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    Negativity again attends Black College Reunion

    Despite official welcomes, complaints of mistreatment are arising ahead of this weekend's event in Daytona Beach.

    By JOUNICE L. NEALY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2001


    After legal battles and bad publicity about tourists' treatment during Black College Reunion, Daytona Beach officials and some merchants proclaimed they would roll out the welcome mat.

    But of all the special events in the city, the reunion still is the least-supported and continues to draw the most controversy, some say.

    The event, which draws more than 100,000 mostly black visitors, begins today. Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Attorney General's Office will be there to monitor the event.

    "We just got a phone call from a motorist who was on her way to work between Daytona and Ormond (Beach). Somebody made a sign that said "BCR and BUD (Mayor Bud Asher) must go.' So it's a lot of hostility," said Cynthia Slater, president of the Daytona Beach branch of the NAACP.

    "They can have all the events in the world in Daytona and nothing is said," she said. "But as soon as Black College Reunion hits town, it's the worst. Before it even gets here."

    The traffic plan that could possibly close a bridge and prevent visitors from going to the beach has drawn ire from the NAACP. It's a plan that's been used before, but Slater said it doesn't make the plan a fair one.

    And some merchants have noted that they only see the "Code of Conduct" -- a list of state laws and city ordinances that prohibit public drinking, loud music, loitering, littering and riding on top of cars -- distributed by police during Black College Reunion.

    "It's just the point that now the white people are going to be a minority, so white people are scared because there's going to be more black people," said Christina Caulley, who works at Treasure Gifts along State Road A1A.

    Caulley was around during other spring break weekends and Bike Week and said she didn't see the metal gates that city workers were putting up along the sidewalks Thursday. No other event gets the negative treatment that Black College Reunion does, she said.

    But organizers say the planning has gone well. The event has drawn volunteers such as the God Squad, a group of clergy from around Florida, who help maintain calm.

    "They do a fantastic job of quelling potentially tense situations," said Daytona Beach Police Sgt. Al Tolley. "It's amazing what a person with a collar on and a kind word can do. Sometimes a kind word can be "What would your mother say if they saw you doing that?' "

    Although volunteers have poured in, the event has not received any serious financial backing.

    For example, the Adam's Mark Hotel offered to match any corporate contributions from local businesses up to $25,000. But no one came forward, said Fred Kummer III, the chain's chief operating officer.

    "I think that's kind of a bad statement for the community," Kummer said.

    The hotel chain was sued in 1999 after some guests say they were mistreated. A judge rejected a proposed $8-million settlement, and the ruling is being appealed. The hotel still denies any wrongdoing but has to follow the federal government's orders, which include lifting a requirement that guests and visitors wear wristbands to enter the hotel.

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