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Pensacola Events Designed To Promote Racial Unity

In the wake of the recent happenings in Ferguson, Missouri, St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church and the Pensacola Branch of the NAACP is hosting  two events this week titled “A Time for Unity in Black and White” to promote racial unity.

Credit Dr. Eurydice Stanley
Dr. Eurydice Stanley

“I think it’s an opportunity to share in a safe place” says Pensacola Unity Ambassador Dr. Eurydice Stanley. She’s been helping to organize the ‘community conversations,’ the first of which was scheduled for this Monday evening, just hours after the funeral of  unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson two weeks ago.

It’s a very somber time, a very critical time for all of us to think about what it is that we believe, what it is that we feel and how are we going to stand up for one another,” she says.

Also notable about the community conversations, “A Time for Unity in Black and White,” is that the guest speaker will be Deborah Watts, Founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and Till family member. Additionally, the local unity events are just days before the 59th anniversary of Till’s lynching, on August 28, 1955, reportedly for flirting with a white woman.

Till, who was 14 years old and visiting family in Mississippi at the time, was taken from his family’s home and brutalized to the point where his mother could only identify his body by the ring he had on. For his funeral, Mamie Till made the decision to keep the casket open, because she wanted to the world to see what happened to him.

“The lynching is not the physical lynching that it was before,” says John Veasley, President of the Pensacola Branch of the NAACP, which is co-presenting the events.  He adds there is still much work to do on the issue of race in America. “We want to make people aware that racial equality is not here. We are not a post-racial society, even though President Obama has been office for about six years," Veasley says.

And, Veasley adds that Pensacola is all too familiar with the controversy over law enforcement’s use of force within the African American community, noting the case of Roy Middleton, who was shot by Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies at  his Pensacola area home one year ago. The officers fired over a dozen shots and struck Middleton twice.

“That was a very unfortunate incident and somehow the grand jury said that was okay, that law enforcement had responded appropriately. We don’t think so,” he said.

Veasley says this week’s unity events provide a good opportunity for people in the community to voice their concerns and hear how law enforcement works, and civil rights works.  The first “A Time for Unity in Black and White” event on this Monday evening is focused specifically on youth, from age 5 to 18.

A separate event geared for adults will be offered Wednesday. Both events will be held at 6 p.m. at St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church on 620 E. Jordan Street. Both nights will feature a viewing of the documentary, “Who Killed Emmett Till?”

Among the participants in Monday’s “A Time for Unity in Black and White” event for youth were 17 year old Dereka Travis, a senior at Washington High School and 15 year old Malik Blankenship, a sophomore at the school. The young people shared their thoughts on the recent developments following the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.


Sandra Averhart speaks with attendees at Monday's event.

The second event, geared toward adults is Wednesday evening Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. at St. John Divine Missionary Baptist Church on East Jordan Street. 

The guest speaker for both events is Deborah Watts, founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation and Till family member, following a viewing of the documentary, “Who Killed Emmett Till?” 

Also, on Thursday, marks the 59th anniversary of the August 28, 1955 lynching of Emmett Till. In commemoration and remembrance, individuals are being encouraged to dress in black and white on that date as a symbolic protest against hate.


Sandra Averhart speaks with Deborah Watts.


Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.