RiseMagazine | Sarasota

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A Letter to the Publisher…

The mural on 10th street has raised not only awareness to the intricate challenge of maintaining a balance between rights and expression but also that today’s actions have far-reaching repercussions that our future generations will pay the price for…if we’re not alert to malicious intentions. This letter was submitted to Rise Magazine | Weekly from Allison Pinto, Ph.D., a concerned member of the community:

Response to the 10th Street Mural & its Implications for Neighborkids

Many have commented on why the community response to the 10th Street mural matters to artists and people who identify themselves with the arts. I am most concerned with why it matters for neighborkids.

First and foremost, I am a neighbor in Central-Cocoanut, the neighborhood of Newtown where the mural is located, and I have grown to love the neighborkids who make this place so great. We’ve explored together as neighborhood scavenger hunters, we’ve chatted over tea, we’ve discovered and invented neighborhood traditions together. We’ve become a neighborhood family.

I am also a child psychologist with a community psychology orientation. I believe kids are gifted community builders, and worth investing in as such. I also take seriously the growing body of literature that confirms what kids, parents and neighbors have known for eons – that neighborhood realities and experiences are formative in the lives of children.

In 2010, Banyan Sprout, Inc. was established in Central-Cocoanut in response to the greatness of the neighborkids. As director, I “wear two hats,” contributing as a neighbor and also as a psychologist. Through Banyan Sprout, we come together as children, families, and neighbors to discover and invent fun, new ways of promoting children’s mental health and community well-being.

It is from this particular set of coordinates that I am so disturbed by what I have seen playing out in the broader community over the past three months in relation to the 10th Street mural. Here’s what I have noticed:

Neighbor perspectives and efforts are trivialized. When Central-Cocoanut residents of different ages and ethnic identities articulated clear and compelling concerns about the mural, these were dismissed by various people outside the neighborhood as “a few people’s over-reaction.” This continued even after neighbors spoke door-to-door with over 100 fellow neighbors in over 90 households and half of the people surveyed said they disliked the mural. It also continued even after the City Commission acknowledged the legitimacy of the expressed concerns.

Neighborhood identity is denied and appropriated. When Central-Cocoanut residents voiced criticism, those responsible for the placement of the mural responded by saying, “that is not a neighborhood.” They then began saying the mural is in the Rosemary District, an inaccuracy that several local media outlets perpetuated.

Stereotypes are reinforced in the guise of “dialogue” and “freedom of expression.” Neighbors who expressed criticism were described by proponents of the mural as ignorant, unsophisticated, and fearful. To describe people of the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood of Newtown in these ways is culturally incompetent at best, and could easily be perceived by neighbors as bigoted.

“Doing to” the neighborhood continues. Those responsible for the 10th Street mural recently announced that they now plan to take down that mural. However, they also announced that they have designed and are implementing a more extensive mural art effort in the Central-Cocoanut neighborhood, and intend to establish partnerships with schools, neighborhoods and organizations outside of Central-Cocoanut in order to do so. As such, this is an agenda set and controlled by people who are external to the neighborhood. It does not follow the lead of neighbors.

So what does this communicate to kids? It communicates that those people, groups and organizations perceived as powerful — in terms of money, resources and connections — presume the privilege to write history as we are living it. It communicates that the role of neighbor / neighborhood is not central in the collective mindset of the Sarasota community.

So where is the good that has come from the situation, relative to the well-being of neighborkids? Here’s what I have noticed neighbors communicating to the kids of Central-Cocoanut through an active group response:

When a neighborhood is “done to,” neighbors can speak up and take action.

When neighbors are treated disrespectfully and never receive an earnest apology, they can choose not to develop a relationship with the person or group who was disrespectful – regardless of the money, resources or connections offered. This is not a refusal to extend forgiveness; it is a sign of healthy self-respect.

There are times when your wisdom will be unrecognizable to those beyond yourself, or beyond your family or immediate community. This does not mean that your wisdom is any less legitimate.

There are times when, despite expressing your views articulately and acting competently, you will still be “done to” because power dynamics are deeply entrenched. These are times when it is important to take the long view, and to have confidence that ultimately it is still possible to prevail.

Families have been communicating these messages for generations. So have churches and faith communities. Neighborhoods can too.

Thanks to the many neighbors of Central-Cocoanut and all of Newtown who have actively communicated these truths for the sake of positive community change in the past, and to neighbors who are actively doing so today. It matters for kids and for all of us.

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13 comments on “A Letter to the Publisher…

  1. Bob
    04/03/2012

    Michael, I will apologize to you as I have high regard for this paper you are starting. You also do not have to accept my comment if you want. I not sure why you protect Alison and I do not owe Alison anything, for what I had to say was my opinion of what I read of her actions in our area of town. You had no problem posting her opinion of others that I think was rude and judgmental. What I do is not relevant or who I am as that implies there are a higher regard for some over others but there are plenty of people she claims to represent that I know nothing about too. If she does good with her work lets be clear, it is work. She works for Scope for which she is paid and then she works for her own business for which she is paid. She is gloating herself and her business in everything she writes. If you think her actions are not to promote those two things then I believe you are being blinded too. She is getting a lot of exposure for her rally around this issue and the way I see it, has to try to win when she has nothing to win. Her two jobs are so interwoven with what she does that I would imagine if she did not have those two jobs in this neighborhood then she would not be so invested with her minimal volunteer time and giving extra hours, which is something we all do and we will never know. Thats good in my book but lets not stop the discussion that she is more righteous for doing her job and anyone who works around this area owes her something. She may have a great relationship with the children because she is paid and has that benefit because of that security but I believe she brainwashes them on this subject. While she may be doing many things right with her job I would assume there are many of us who feel she is not right on this one subject. I also do not agree she posted that link for you on the White Savior Complex or it would not have been posted in this conversation. I am confused over your protection of Alison that is at minimum a conversation on the White Savior Industrial Complex and if I am wrong then that would be good too but why are you the judge? My mistake as I thought this was a conversation and the green card to say what one thinks of others was set by Alison’s letter not me. Bob

    • Michael Paragon
      04/03/2012

      Good morning Bob, apology accepted. I obviously have no problem with this comment or even your previous one. My issue comes from critiques that come from people with no “skin in the game” or from general laymen who may have an ax to grind. I asked of your background to simply understand the relevance of your observations. If you were a member of the community who’s actively involved in the advancement of the community, then honestly, your comments would come across as more substantial vs. someone who found the post online while visiting the library internet kiosk. Sarasota is filled with “Big I, little U”-minded people and I refuse to open a channel of discussion with this type of individual. Not here, not ever.

      As for the “co-mingling” of services and the dual benefits that Allison may be receiving, at this point I doubt if I could care less. If anyone is able to parlay their job into a niche of their business, fine. Trust that if I worked at Staples Document Center and was able to operate a printing business, that would be a win-win to me!

      My focus is the community and if there’s a benefit being provided, bravo! If her services create a detriment instead, please bring either proof or valid allegations and I’ll be among the first to investigate.

      In all fairness to you, I would like to offer an apology. On the “Contact Us” page you’ll find the comment guidelines. In the future, I will add those guidelines at the end of every article. Hopefully, we can continue discussing topics and issues effecting Sarasota as a whole and the Newtown community specifically.

  2. Bob
    03/25/2012

    Allison, Unbelievable! What a disappointing attempt. You, a white woman doing what this article points out and trying to accuse others of it? You are white writing like you are the friend in need with blacks in the neighborhood but being paid to do so by two different businesses, your own business Banyan Sprout and SCOPE blowing your own horn about it for your personal feel-good reward. Using blacks to hide your racism such as writing a letter to the editor on this forum that is for the black community owned by a black man. You even take your arrogance further by leading a negative outcry by holding emergency meetings and taking surveys and then speaking for blacks as if we are not capable of it ourselves? You may be the most typical example of that article. Bob

    • Michael Paragon
      03/25/2012

      Good morning Bob, I felt compelled to respond to your comment to Allison for a variety of reasons, first of all being that I strive to maintain an open forum for positive communication. This isn’t your first attack directed in her direction but any further “flares” or attacks of character will not be tolerated. Yes, I can do that, this is my publication. If that bothers you, I’d suggest you stop reading now.
      Secondly, this site is dedicated to the black community but not to be exclusive to the rest of Sarasota, of which we are a part of. You won’t find dinner reviews for Marina Jack here nor will you find clothing coupons from any businesses on Main Street, they don’t engage in business with me and it’s “quid pro quo” from there! This forum is open to anyone reading the content and wishing to comment – constructively.
      Thirdly, the information that was relayed to me was for my benefit and justifiably so. The so-called “White Savior Industrial Complex” is becoming more rampant across the board and it bears recognition to weed out the real from the fake. Point noted.
      Lastly, the work that Allison does contributes positively to the community and the kids who will inherit it. Pardon my ignorance but, what are YOU doing? What have you DONE? Stepping into this forum and denouncing someone in the presence of others who may not know anything about you (such as myself) wouldn’t be advisable in any context.

  3. Allison Pinto
    03/23/2012

    Read Teju Cole’s article published this week in The Atlantic, titled, “The White Savior Industrial Complex.” He says it well. It applies as much to Sarasota as it does to Africa and other places around the world.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/1/

  4. Denise Kowal
    03/22/2012

    Hello Allison, I respectfully request that you please try to avoid painting your view of us in a factual manner. I do not believe anyone from our organization has been in your presence but once. Nothing could be further from the truth about “those responsible” whose activities have been very successful since 2007. I know you are very interested in what we think or do so it would be beneficial to actually sit and talk with us – an invitation we have extended several times and you have continually refused. As soon as you stated something Scott told me was not correct, I never said it again. You seem to not afford us the same courtesy. I am one of the first local graduates of the Asset Based Community Development course with John McKnight and have lived in this Sarasota community that I call home for over 30 years. I think you stated you have been here 3? It just seems counterproductive to me to try to pit people in our community against each other purposefully by using this mural as a basis particularly when your own survey shows a 50/50 slit opinion. I believe we all want the same positive things for our community and for the people who live here and make this city a great place to be – I assume you to be one of those and I know that I am. How about we meet for a cup of tea?

  5. bob
    03/20/2012

    Allison, Your letter to the editor is crammed with bold projections, assumptions and claims about other people using such harsh judgment. We are not a segregated community anymore and do not want a barrier up treating others who do things in area as bad people or they should not enter or feel welcomed. You may live in the neighborhood now but you are not from here and do not dictate everyone’s moves. Have you even tried having a conversation with those you seem to be so opinionated about or have issues with instead of grabbing for the media constantly to campaign your view for you. The mural is NOT a gang sign and the Sarasota Police have publicly stated so and many people like it. Also, your success rate politically with Willie Shaw who should not even be talking this issue in his capacity as a city commissioner but are forcing the removal, and the active support you have from the 50% that agree with your view makes it hard to understand your victim posturing and statements that your being ignored or made small. You make the mural a ‘done to’ you claim but it is a nice thing to many of us. You do not speak for this neighborhood but seem to be acting if you guardian of all of us. There are plenty of things I do not like in the neighborhood and this is not high on the list. You say your survey came out 50/50 and that seems like a tie to me that can be discussed but does not elevate to a call to action to support your personal agenda and just the 50% against this art. Bob

  6. Virginia Hoffman
    03/18/2012

    Mary nice to see you posting thank you for your insight, how about a movement to restore the historical name back to this district. The Rosemary District is floundering perhaps reinstating the essence of the neighborhood back calling it Overtown would be good thing.

  7. Mary Simmons Mack
    03/17/2012

    I became a member of a great group – over 65 and yes, there has been tremendous progress in Sarasota, it should have been much further. We know of the subtle racism that still roams in the communities on both sides. Change is painful, but necessary. My kids call me old school and I suppose my parents and grandparents were even older, but I remember a wonderful community, one that cared for each other and was concerned about the well being of not only the youngsters, but the elderly as well.
    -I’m one to believe that respect goes both ways. I don’t mind giving it and Lord, help me I expect the same in return. That’s from all ages. In reading the editorial from Margaret Esaw, manners are not taught. This is the “Age of Entitlement”. I made it very clear to mine that I didn’t owe them anything and that I did for them because I loved them. I DON’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING!! Those of us in the old school were told we had to work for everything we wanted and that still holds true today. It’s just not taught.
    – By the way, where can I get a copy of the video you had on the site? It would be a great introduction to one of the community meetings…an eye opener and the youngsters need to be there. in fact, it would be a great introduction to a movie in Fredd Atkins Park this spring or summer. Thanks for all that you’re doing.

  8. Virginia Hoffman
    03/14/2012

    Nice commentary who is the author? I hope this person will share the rich history of the
    Overtown neighborhood with the children which existed before the Rosemary District and Central Coconut.
    I never understood why this district got renamed in the first place. Many of the original craftsmen who built
    the significant historical buildings in Sarasota lived in Overtown. (now known as Rosemary)

    • Mary Simmons Mack
      03/15/2012

      It’s called gentrification, Viriginia. I spoke with the Scott about the mural and asked why didn’t they put something historical on the wall. Promises! Promises! Many of our families lived Overtown for many years and before we knew it, it was renamed Rosemary, after a cemetary. Who the heck is Rosemary?? Most of the buildings have been demolished with no sign of what used to be there. Our families have been in Sarasota for more than 100 years and as soon as someone speaks up they’re complaining. THIS IS OUR HOME!! No one ever wants to talk about how unfair and racist Sarasota has been and continues to be. WE ARE NOT IGNORANT! WE ALL HAVE OUR LIKES AND DISLIKES. And it’s appropriate to say so. Do I sound disgusted? Darn right. We didn’t just get here. I remember telling our kids when they finished college not to come back here. Overtown was a thriving community and yes, there were businesses owned by both races – Altman Chevrolet, Horne’s and Chadwich’s grocery stores, George’s drug store, Joe’s Dept. Store, Kapp’s Shoes, Sander’s Fish Market and more. Two of the largest churches were right there on Central Avenue. The Payne Chapel building is still standing. So, yes, we have a rich history of Overtown. One of our county commissioners was born and grew up there. I could go on, but I’ll leave that for my book.:)

      • Michael Paragon
        03/15/2012

        Thanks for your insightful history of Overtown Ms. Mack. The gentrification process seems to be moving right along and would, no doubt, have been successful! Eyes are being opened and Sarasota is poised for change. When the wicked spring forth as weeds and workers of inequity come forth, it is so that they may be defeated! The repetition of this surgical removal of the black contributions to Sarasota’s history began with the collection of statues in Gillespie park that failed to include Leonard Reid or Reverend Lewis Colson. Black children have no references with which to connect to the greatness of our progress…we have no monuments of glory to aspire to. Strange how Gillespie has a street in his name that runs through both the black and white communities of Sarasota yet Dr. Martin Luther King Way can’t seem to make it across 41 or Lockwood Meadows. Do we even want to mention Leonard Reid Avenue? Sarasota has much to be proud of and for attempting to ignore this side of its history, Sarasota also has much to be ashamed of…but, we can change it!

      • Denise Kowal
        03/22/2012

        Hello Mary, Regarding the art: The artists we work with decide the art they are going to create as part of our ‘Going Vertical’ installations and it is up to the property owner to decide if they approve the art work to be completed on their property. We select each artist based on their own personal style and interests that make them unique to bring diversity to our installations. I would be more than happy to meet with you to explain further. As the event evolves over the next couple of years we hope to have many cultures, styles, interests and meanings expressed by artists both locally, nationally and internationally. We are not interested in conveying only our local interests and thoughts but those globally as well. Scott approved the artwork that the French artist MTO proposed based on the artist speaking about his works meaning – not sure what the comment you made, “Promises! Promises!” means but did Scott promise something to you instead? I have no knowledge of that nor do I have any control over what Scott does or does not do. If you are interested in having something historical painted then we would be more than happy to work with you to try to get that accomplished or find a wall for you to initiate a group of artists to do one. I am sure there are artists that would be interested in doing that. We will be working in the Central Avenue in the next few weeks and then again in November during the festival. Not sure if you saw the historical mural by Eduardo Kobra of a 1940s photograph of Main Street on a 4 story building created during the 2011 festival. I’ll try to find your email and send you a note that way too if I do not hear from you in a few days. I can be reached at denise@chalkfestival.com.

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This entry was posted on 03/14/2012 by in Local Interest and tagged , , , , , .

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