By Mike Lednovich
Impassioned members of Fernandina Beach’s black community came out Tuesday and voiced opposition to any plans of putting a fence around the historic Peck Center field.
They also called for the city to be more proactive in reaching out to the black community on important decisions.
After the public comments, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) reached a consensus that no fence needed to be placed around the field.
The PRAC agenda only listed “Peck Field use” with no mention of a possible fence for discussion. But word-of-mouth about the fence proposal spread through the neighborhood surrounding the Peck Field.
Currently, several sports teams, including lacrosse and soccer, use the Peck Field to practice.
“If there was something on the agenda about putting a fence around Central Park you wouldn’t be able to get in this building,” Rev. Bernard Thompson told the committee. “That’s just as absurd as changing the aesthetics of a whole neighborhood and this is absolutely ludicrous. There’s people here that the black experience means nothing to them. There comes a time when you have to make a stand on something. So we’re here tonight to make a stand.”
City Parks and Recreation Director Catherine Vorrasi said the possibility of a fence being built was raised out of safety concerns for youth players practicing on the field in the event an errant ball went out into the nearby streets.
Former Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Patricia Thompson (2001-02) said the black community celebrates its legacy every day. “We played ball on that field for many years. We never wanted a fence and we never needed a fence, and, we produced great athletes,” she told the committee. “When you put a fence up, it’s not always to keep people in, we feel like it’s meant to keep people out. It’s kind of ironic and it makes us feel indifferent how proposed changes always comes to the black neighborhood.”
She noted that city meeting notices are placed at city hall and the MLK Rec Center, but are not put at the Peck Center. “We want to be included in all of the decision making and it’s funny that this committee doesn’t represent us. When we’re making decisions let us remember the whole community. We don’t want to feel slighted or less than. Please don’t try to interfere with our legacy, because that’s not fair and it’s certainly not equal.”
Janice Moat said the PRAC agenda listing of “Peck Field use” told neighborhood residents nothing about what was actually going to be discussed by the committee.”We had no clue about a fence going up,” she said.
But Moat downplayed those fears and said, “I’ve lived in this neighborhood 65 years and the police have never been out here on a call of a child hurt chasing a ball in the street. It’s not a danger there.”
Cheryl Albert, daughter of Fernandina Beach’s first and only black mayor Charles Albert, spoke about her late father’s opposition to any fence at Peck Field “because it would make us feel institutionalised. Instead, make these parents come out and be the ball runners. That’s what we had back in the day. Get the parents out there.”
Albert said that a fence would also reduce parking spaces at the field.
She said it was through her father’s efforts with the state that the Peck High School and field is what it is today.
‘It was an abandoned building, and the city didn’t care about it. My father’s work made it what it is,” she said.