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July 7, 2020

Courageous Conversations in Tampa

By Carolynn Smith-Jones

Everyone has gifts, talents and capacities. My calling in life has always been to help guide, mentor and educate our inner-city youth. I have never been one to sit on the sidelines and watch things happen. I have always been led to lead, to give back and to take action where action is needed, even if it means in small steps. 

On Tuesday, June 2, I tossed and turned in bed, replaying the death of George Floyd, a kind black man who died at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25. Replaying all the local and national protests, both peaceful and violent, that were erupting across the United States in all 50 states and multiple countries. I knew I couldn’t sleep without putting action into place in my community, the community I love and for which I will fight for racial equality for as long as it takes. By the morning of Wednesday, June 3, I had a plan: an event to hold open conversations on race, racism and change; a town hall setting to discuss how to come together as a community and have uncomfortable conversations educating the white community on how to have racial conversations with their children, colleagues, family and friends. 

Seven days later, the  doors opened. Community leaders, business owners, whites, blacks, Hispanics, civil rights advocates and community supporters filled the room. Hundreds logged in virtually to listen and join the conversation. We were educated on “Unconscious Bias” by TEDx Speaker, employment lawyer and author Kelly Charles-Collins. Radio personalities and community leaders Ian Beckles and Orlando Davis spoke openly on their views of social inequality, racial injustice, discrimination and what our community needs to take action against racism.

I only had one rule: Come with an open heart, open mind and respect. 

At the end of the day, there are three kinds of people in life: people that make things happen, people that watch things happen and people that ask, “What happened?”

I want to make things happen. I want change. I want racial justice and racial equality. 

From Left: Carolynn Smith-Jones, Kelly Charles-Collins, Orlando Davis and Ian Beckles talk about racism and change at the Rialto Theater

I learned after my first community conversation that these conversations are challenging. They are uncomfortable. But, most importantly, they are crucial to moving our community and nation forward.  

I listened to the voices filled with emotion and anger, requesting us to “Stop talking” and “Take action.” This lit a fire. It made it crystal clear what my next steps need to be. Yes, educational conversations are needed, but more importantly, it’s time to listen and gather research, statistics and data on what our black community has been voicing for years with no results and no change. 

I will continue to walk in my purpose and use my white privilege and resources to fulfil my responsibility that is owed to our black community. 

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