By David McKalip, M.D.
The time has come for a dialog between races in St. Petersburg regarding inter-racial relationships and the condition of the black and white communities here. The immediate context is the continued controversy and concerns regarding the shootings of black people by Police as well as the actions of protesters that manifest as violence and chaos. However the greater context is the continued poverty and hopelessness that appears to be pervasive in our local black community. The larger perspective must include the impact of governmental action, an overall moral degradation in society as a whole and the loss of faith in God as a cornerstone of action and justice predominately among the white community. The Sunbeam Times is offering to open this dialog on race in these pages. I am offering free space here to any person who wishes to engage in a public dialog on racial issues in St. Petersburg and the country as the whole. More details are below, but it will be based on mutual respect and listening to each other, and not anger and disrespect.
This author (yours truly, Dr. David McKalip) is no stranger to strained race relations and controversy having unintentionally stirred up my own by emailing an offensive image of President Obama as a witch doctor. The ramifications and backlash was deep and painful for many, but ignored the political context and motivations of many involved which were less than pure. While I recognized my sin, apologized for and paid for my action, I heard no such apology or similar action from those who were agitating for their own political purposes. That will be a story for another day. The point is that I have been greatly involved in trying to help with race relations in St. Petersburg since before that day in July of 2009 and until today. For instance, I was able to organize an African American Career Fest to benefit children in midtown and help the black Boy Scout program in 2006. In 2012 I reached out to a well known local black pastor to find a way to organize interfaith/interracial bible studies that would serve as a basis of racial reconciliation in St. Petersburg. My efforts were rebuffed because I refused to first swear loyalty to President Obama and his agenda (but I did gain a greater understanding of the importance of President Obama to the black community). In 2013 and 2014 I helped found “St. Pete Together” with like minded black and white leaders in the community to help find a way to address many social issues in our city. The group disbanded and it was clear that a frank dialog based on mutual respect was not possible as some members literally shouted down those who failed to agree with a certain perspective on “institutional racism”. Just recently I brought my “Founders Corner Monuments” to downtown St. Petersburg on the 4th of July and was delighted to see people of all races interested. Many black people enjoyed learning about the founding principles of the USA and one even asked me “how many people of my color realize how important this is?” Sadly, the joy of a young black family taking the free copies of the Constitution and Declaration of independence was overshadowed by their black father shouting angrily “there is no equality”, indicating that the salute to “Equal Justice” on the monuments was a fraud. I offered back “equality comes from God and we are all brothers in Christ”. Sadly his angry shouts carried off with him as he walked away with his wife and children who were now somewhat crestfallen. I offer this background not out of pride but out of humility and a demonstration of my sincere interest.
I remember growing up in St. Petersburg and being bused in the first group of kids subject to government-forced integration of the schools. I remember growing up and thinking – as a teenager and then college student in local schools – that over the next generation or two “things would just work themselves out”. I figured that the integration programs, the government poverty programs and more would certainly solve the underlying racial tension. I sincerely had an optimistic view of the future, truly believing that the days of racial animosity would be gone when I had my own kids. I was a liberal then and had a very favorable view of government programs (now I am a conservative and recognize their folly). Sadly, despite enormous progress for black people (an end to Jim Crow laws, equal opportunity laws, amazing opportunities for education and work) there appears to be a dissatisfaction among the black community and a general distress among the white population about how stalled we appear to be.
As a Catholic Christian and an optimist, I am certain that we can find common ground and move forward together as brothers and sisters. As a pragmatic observer of government, society and demographics, I am certain that there is far more progress than people acknowledge. Yet when I drive around town I still see poverty and hopelessness in many of the same places where they existed in the ’70’s. That includes black and white communities. That bothers me – where is the prosperity that should be here by now? I am sincerely concerned about the anger on display from protesters and activists, but I also recognize that in general such groups do not always reflect the truth of what is felt or actually happening in a community. I also recognize that white and black leaders often trade on dissent and anger, not peace and happiness. That said, there is a clear need for reconciliation and that is best started with a sincere dialog among people of good will – the real people living daily on our communities.
So in a sincere good will, I am offering to start such a dialog here on these pages. Any person who is black and works for the betterment of black and white people as a whole is invited to participate (that includes Black Lives Matter and similar groups if they are so inclined). I envision a series of articles that can be in a variety of formats (which can be decided together). Many different authors are welcome and they must agree to do the writing themselves and be willing to meet from time to time in person. The person(s) must be interested in reconciliation between races and building a bridge among brothers and sisters who are black and white. They must be willing to pose and answer difficult questions directly and openly. They must avoid anger and personal attack and act in good faith toward a joint goal: peace and prosperity for all in our city. They must be willing to search for common ground -so a long term basis of reconciliation can exist in our town that we both can work on together for years to come.
Here is an example of a discussion that needs to occur:
Why is there still significant poverty in the Black Community of St. Petersburg? What is the best approach most likely help?
Any person who is interested should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment to this post below with contact information (the contact information will remain private). This invitation will be posted widely on social media to attract attention of those interested in participation.