20130713-172406.jpgWhy did I come to Sanford today, July 13th, on the 2nd day of jury deliberations in the Zimmerman Trial? My wife advised me to stay away. Friends said they wouldn't go anywhere near Sanford today. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the Seminole County Sheriff and Sanford Police Chief are saying they won't tolerate any violence when jurors reach a verdict. Still, I felt a need. I came because:

The police presence seems greater than the patron presence today. I counted eight law enforcement vehicles as I drove from the city limits to my lunch destination at Angel's Soul Food Cafe downtown. Few people are on the street, and the businesses are mostly empty, although there is a crowd of about 100 people gathering outside the Seminole County Courthouse. Local businesses suffered mightily last year during the protests before police finally arrested George Zimmerman and charged him with the murder. They're investing in this community and need support.

Sanford is a bigger city than this trial about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It's a cool, historic community founded on the shores of Lake Monroe in 1877 that once was the economic center of Central Florida. Sanford is re-emerging as an eclectic and diverse community that features a culture of blues music, plays, film festivals, art of all kinds and some of the best restaurants you'll find anywhere. It has an international airport that offers cheap flights and convenience, a beautiful Riverwalk and waterfront park, good schools, and a coveted SunRail commuter rail station that will open next year.

The City's leaders, business owners and residents are working diligently to overcome years of neglect, some unfortunate history, poor perceptions, and intense competition from other parts of Seminole County and the Central Florida region to create a sense of vision, new identity and purpose. As project manager for the Imagine Sanford visioning and strategic planning process, I've gotten to know the community and its people well. It is a distinctive, authentic place with a strong sense of community, both in the historic downtown and the African American communities of Goldsboro and Georgetown.

With a journalism degree, some reporting in my past and a taste for current events in my blood, I still want to be close to the news as it happens. Human dynamics are fascinating. At the bar where I am having a drink, I learned a 40-top reservation cancelled last night because of concerns about pending violence. A police officer also called to cancel a reservation because he didn't want to bring his family downtown under the threat of violence.

As the City's hired planning consultant, I have a sense of professional ownership and an ethical commitment to the community. I see the positive direction and opportunities here in Sanford. James Baldwin wrote that "not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can change unless it is faced." Through the visioning process, we have helped Sanford face its challenges and see its opportunities. The City is poised to adopt a vision and strategic plan that will direct its resources and attention on key initiatives to help it thrive and give opportunity to people of all ages, races and backgrounds.

Finally, I came because the ugliness of racial divide and profiling is still with us, 150 years after we fought a Civil War about it, 50 years after racial integration at the University of Mississippi and 20 years after Rodney King. There is still a lot of work to be done on all sides, and communities like Sanford are at the forefront of working to change their historical legacies into a bright future for all residents. The old guard is dying off and we have a new generation of leaders who don't care that it's always been done a certain way or that new ideas were rejected in the past. It's a new dawn and a new day. And Sanford stands to benefit.

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