Confronting Racism by “Bridging the Gap”

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By Anne H Oman
January 12, 2020

Macedonia AME Church

Some seventy people – Black, White and blue-uniformed – streamed into Historic Macedonia AME Church on Ash Street Thursday evening for the Fifth Annual Bridging the Gap assembly, a cross between a church service (prayers, hymns, the Gospel) and a town meeting (attendance by City Commissioners Chapman, Lednovich, and Ross and City Manager Martin and talks by Fernandina Police Chief Hurley and Nassau County Sheriff Leeper).

Macedonia’s pastor, Rev. Anthony C. Daniel, asked the assemblage: “Are you a puzzle piece or a piece of the puzzle?”

The Rev Dr. Charlie Charles

Some in the congregation seemed mystified by the question, until Rev. Dr. Mark “Pastor Charlie” Charles of Memorial United Methodist Church – one of several local clergy participating – explained the metaphor:

“If you’re a puzzle piece, you’re separate, outside,” he said, in the dulcet tones of his native Northern Ireland. “If you’re a piece of the puzzle, you help make it complete – you’re connected, playing your part.”

To underscore the theme, the church gave attendees lapel pins in the shape of puzzle pieces.

File photo: Jeanette Baker, Exec Director of Coalition for Reduction and Elimination of Ethic Disparities in Health.


As a beret-topped Minister “Sir” Gene Dawson pounded out jazz, hymns and patriotic tunes on the grand piano, a young woman danced, Old and New Testament scripture was read, and speaker after speaker exhorted the group to eschew racism and work toward better race relations. Jennett Baker, a retired nurse and Executive Director of CREED, the Coalition for Reduction and Elimination of Ethic Disparities in Health, quoted Eldridge Cleaver: “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.”

The program, which started five years ago, “came about after a series of events taking place in our country,” Rev. Daniel told the congregation. “I wanted to be pro-active, not antagonistic. I went to Chief Hurley and Sheriff Leeper, and it evolved. Things are not perfect in the world, but we can say in Fernandina Beach and in Nassau County that we are taking a proactive approach in loving each other. We’ve come a long way.”

File photo: Fernandina Beach Police Chief Hurley

“We tried to identify what issues we had and what solutions were available,” said Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Hurley, who has been involved with the program since the beginning. “We had many conversations over lunch and during walks through the neighborhoods, discussing ways to do more than just preach to the choir.”

He added that the police force uses best practices in addressing issues of bias and ethics, and makes use of in-car and body-worn cameras to document police contacts, reducing the likelihood of negative contacts.

“We are doing the things we should be doing,” he said. “And if we should be doing something additional, we’re open to that.”


File photo: Rev Anthony Daniels

In an interview with the Observer, Rev. Daniel defined the gap as “the conscious and unconscious bias of what we call racism, which prevents people from coming together. We have difficulty talking about race. We have to be bold and courageous and tackle the elephant in the room… At the service, people came together and acknowledged the problem.”

Rev. Daniel added that progress in bridging the gap has been “slow and steady.”

“In my lifetime, it won’t come to closure, but we can begin,” he said.

One useful tool Rev. Daniel cited is “Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity,” a documentary film produced in 2014 by Shakti Butler.

“The Bahá I community here brought it to our attention,” said Rev. Daniel.

Last summer members of the Bahá I community and of the Macedonia church and other interested parties convened a meeting at the Martin Luther King Community Center for a conservation on race relations prompted by the documentary. The film was also shown at Story & Song Bookstore in September. Additional sessions are planned.

According to articles published in The Florida Times Union in 2007, study circles on race were formed in Fernandina Beach in September of that year, based on models that had proved effective in other cities, including Muncie, Indiana, Springfield, Illinois, Syracuse, New York, and Waterloo, Iowa. The circles consisted of diverse groups of 8 to 10 people plus a facilitator. The leaders were Neil Frink, Early McCall, Kristina Smith and Herman Springs, said the Times Union.

The paper quoted Mr. Frink: “We want to get all the ethnic groups together, just so they can get to know each other. Hopefully, we can cut through the stereotypes we all face and stop getting angry at each other. We’re all in this together.”

Anne H. Oman relocated to Fernandina Beach from Washington, D.C. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Times, Family Circle and other publications. We thank Anne for her contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

4 thoughts on “Confronting Racism by “Bridging the Gap”

  1. Ann – Have you taken a few minutes to examine the average SAT or ACT scores for the minority children who attend our schools? You should ask about the number of students who have received a bright future scholarship at each of the four high schools for each of the last three years and then see how many held onto those bright future scholarships two years into college. The fact is dyslexia is a big factor that impacts many minority children and we are not teaching the teachers how to provide instruction to these vulnerable students. I had a young person tell me as they applied for a job last week they graduated from Nassau Academy, I asked why did they not just graduate with their class, they were not quite sure, they were told this would be best for them. How about do some real research on the root causes and maybe we will make some progress? Just my personal view

    1. Thanks for bringing up dyslexia, Douglas. As a Learning Disabilities Specialist at a community college for 30 years, I tested many students for dyslexia and other kinds of learning disabilities, such as dyscalcula (math problems), memory defictis, etc. Learning disabilities are a hidden disability, where an otherwise very smart student has difficulty with certain subject areas or processing skills. They often learn to hide it. There are federal and state laws that say we need to identify such students, but it often takes a “squeaky wheel” parent or teacher to get it done.

  2. I was in attendance at the “Bridging the Gap” event again this year. From my perspective, this service/town meeting was uplifting and encouraging, as emphasis was laid on all of us coming together to bring our community to greater peace and love.
    I am grateful for this contribution by Ms. Oman.

    1. Tom – as a physician you should know that African american young males often are struck with dyslexia and if they do not learn to read by 3rd grade then there is a 100% chance they will drop out of school. Yesterday I interviewed a nice young lady for a job as a housekeeper, she was suppose to graduate this year but did not, she was taken out of the high school and placed in the Nassau Academy and then was told she had to leave because she was rude, She lives between two homes, is very polite, appears to be smart but needed more help with math. It was heartbreaking to sit and listen as an employer as she tried to explain why she was unable to graduate with her class. Its a common story I hear too often, we need to change the attitude and ensure all these young people find success. The feel good moments are nice and “uplifting” and without question create a sense of togetherness….the real work however is centered on how you over come true medically based challenges like dyslexia in our public schools. I am disappointed in our medical professionals for simply choosing to “walk away” from this important discussion.

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