One would assume a multicultural festival would celebrate a community’s diversity and break the boundaries often associated with cultural and racial divides.
However, one city official would prefer to limit the number of Latinos attending the city’s annual festival held at Lincoln Park following the Martin Luther King Jr. parade on Jan. 19.
Commissioner Harold Smith took offense to an effort by Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant to invite a Latin band to play at the festival. Smith, who is black, accused the mayor of “intimidating” a Community Redevelopment Agency employee to ensure the band was included.
Bryant said she was only trying to ensure that the diversity of the entertainment matched the spirit of the festival, but Smith said he was “appalled” at any insinuation that the musical lineup was not multicultural. No Latino or white bands were selected by Smith, who inappropriately was making the entertainment decisions.
“I don’t want to bring too many people from the outside. ... “Getting a Latino band, you don’t know who they’ve been playing for,” Smith said.
“If anyone gets shot, it’s on you. I don’t want no problems. It’s been going great. Everyone is having a lot of fun and we need to keep it that way.”
Smith went on to defend his actions, noting, “All the bands ain’t black. Some are mixed. But I don’t want to have no problem. No fights, no fuss, so why change?”
In meetings with the mayor and CRA staff, Smith said “outside Latinos” will only “drink beer and fight.”
Luz Corcuera, executive director of UnidosNow, expressed shock at Smith’s comments.
“First of all, Manatee is getting very diverse and the Latino population has grown 350 percent in the last 10 years,” Corcuera said. “If we want to talk about being a united community in every way, we need to make efforts to reflect the diversity of the community. I’ve never heard of someone assuming a Latino band would be conducive to someone being shot or create adversity. I don’t understand that stereotype that it would be an opportunity for tragedy by having a Latino band play.”
Corcuera said Smith’s comments are divisive and offensive.
“I’m very sorry to hear that it came from someone that people voted for,” she said. “I find if offensive and inappropriate and there needs to be some cultural competence training so people understand what they are saying before they say those words.”
Bryant said Smith’s comments were unacceptable. She also noted that Smith and other commissioners are not allowed to be in charge of planning for city events.
“That’s a reality check,” Bryant said. “I do not run the festival nor should any commissioner. We have designated staff for that. (Smith) was only asked to help locate some of the bands, but we want to make sure it is, indeed, multicultural because 25 percent of our population is Latino and to say Latinos can’t attend, flies in their face.”
Bryant said as mayor and chair of the CRA board, it’s her responsibility to review contracts before sending them to the purchasing department for approval. It was during her review of the contracts that she noticed the lack of diversity in the bands chosen by Smith.
Bryant said Smith’s comments run in opposition to what the festival represents.
“I’m certainly not supportive of what was said,” Bryant said. “My inquiry was to where were the Latino or Hispanic performers because we’ve had them in the past. My thought is to have entertainment for different cultures that are here. That’s my take on it and it’s always been my goal to achieve that. As the mayor, I don’t endorse any type of discrimination. I represent all of the residents in the city of Palmetto.”