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Group plans convention to organize its activism

The fledgling group, called CUSP for short, will push issues in economic development, housing, wages, education and the environment.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 2001


The fledgling group, called CUSP for short, will push issues in economic development, housing, wages, education and the environment.

ST. PETERSBURG -- After a mayoral campaign that took his activism citywide, Omali Yeshitela is organizing a citizens' group to run candidates for office and keep a constant spotlight on city issues.

Citizens United for Shared Prosperity, a diverse group embracing a variety of causes, is billing itself as a progressive organization that will push issues in such areas as economic development, housing, wages, education and the environment.

CUSP holds its first convention Friday and Saturday at Bethel Community Baptist Church, 1045 16th St. S. Admission is free, and the public is invited. An annual membership in the organization is $20.

After the convention, which will elect officers and adopt a platform, the organization plans to set an action agenda, Yeshitela said.

"It will be analogous to a municipal (political) party. Citizens can make public policy all the time and not have to wait for an election," said Yeshitela, who polled about 3,900 votes to finish fifth of mayoral nine candidates in this year's city primary election.

A number of those supporters have rallied behind CUSP. Organizers hope to attract 200 to 400 people to the weekend event.

It will feature several workshops: influencing public policy, the rights of working people, democracy and human rights, police and public safety and arts, culture and the environment, for example.

Several activists with recognizable names and at least one public official are scheduled to attend.

School Board member Linda Lerner said she joined CUSP when it met at the Asian Family Center, where she is a board member.

"It does seem to be a true coalition and not an extension of Uhuru, truly branching out to work with other individuals," said Lerner, referring to the African activist organization Yeshitela founded in St. Petersburg.

"I wouldn't have been so quick to join if I didn't feel there was a real working together with other groups," Lerner said.

At least one analyst of St. Petersburg politics isn't so sure.

Darryl Paulson, a political science professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, sees CUSP as more of an extension of Uhuru rather than a new initiative.

"It also becomes to some degree a political operation in the sense that it provides a platform for Mr. Yeshitela and his views. It keeps him in the public eye," Paulson said.

Said Yeshitela: "If the truth be told, I had a pretty high profile before CUSP was ever dreamed of. I don't need to invent something to keep a profile."

A St. Petersburg native, Yeshitela received intense attention in 1966, when he tore a mural deemed racist off a City Hall wall. Convicted of a felony for the action, he served 21/2 years in prison. His civil rights were restored by Gov. Jeb Bush and three members of the Cabinet last fall.

Among participants expected at this weekend's workshops are Asian Family Center director Bun Hap Prak, activist Perkins Shelton, Coalition of African-American Leadership chairman Lou Brown, former Pinellas NOW president Sandy Oestreich, former Natural Law Party congressional candidate Josette Green, living wage advocates John Feeny and Susan Kettering, St. Petersburg Animal Rescue Organization co-founder Anthony Bennett, Sierra Club activist Bill Reed, former St. Petersburg Times reporter James Harper, educator Adelle Jemison, Marcus Garvey Academy administrator Amina Camara, and My Brothers Keeper founder Kiambu Mudada.

Friday's session is 6:30 p.m. to 9:45 p.m.; Saturday's is 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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