From misconception and backlash, Daytona Beach is moving forward

To describe the insanity surrounding Volusia County in the past week and a half, it would truly take three books and a documentary to cover all the details.

In one of the most bizarre moments of my young activist career, I’ve seen citizens become more vocal than ever about their concerns and seen many “leaders” fall into obscurity to avoid any criticism.

On Saturday, May 15, an annual commemorative celebration was held in DeLand featuring a car show, deejay and block party. The event was well-promoted and efficiently marketed. A record-breaking 3,000 attendees descended upon DeLand and Spring Hill, a neighboring city.

Celebration to chaos

While the outcome and success were truly a highlight for our county’s diversity and inclusiveness initiative, it unfortunately has been deemed “as one of the worst disasters in our state’s history.’’ While those words are hyperbolic and completely unnecessary, the event went on to make national headline news, being covered by the likes of TMZ and CNN.

Volusia’s Sheriff Mike Chitwood went on a controversial posting spree online and criticized the event’s coordinator, promoter and even the attendees who came.

The backlash was immediate, and members of the Black community began to speak out in droves on social media and even sent my organization printed copies of the sheriff’s comments as well as interactions with other commentators who were using racist pejorative and extremely offensive language.

Community backlash

The following Wednesday, I was invited to a private meeting with the Volusia County Minority Elected Officials, the West Volusia NAACP, as well as members of the Volusia County Council. Deemed as a union of “the most powerful voices in Volusia County,” the meeting was held to present issues for the entire county to move forward.

I presented a case of accountability and unity. When my organization hosts our urban-focused events, we are often met with criticism and hardships, which is why I was truly glad to attend and share my perspective on how my generation is treated in the eyes of the local public.

The following morning, a press conference was held by the same parties that hosted the meeting, as well as the sheriff and chief of police. While the conference made a great effort to address issues with COVID-19 and social distancing, the backlash, once again, was immediate.

Disruption in Daytona

This past weekend was one for the record books for Daytona Beach. Over 10,000 citizens from Orlando, Ocala, Jacksonville and Miami threw the biggest beach party since Black College Reunion. There were drop top Chevys, well-dressed young women and men, as well as an overall sense of freedom, fearlessness and the pursuit of happiness in the air.

Everywhere you turned this weekend, you were reminded of the old Daytona; packed beaches, smiles everywhere, a danceoff, and, of course, several ice cream cones falling from people’s hands. The weather was beautiful, and the aura of Black unity was flowing in the air.

Now, somewhere down the road, once the alcoholic beverages got flowing and the sun got intense, people’s true colors started showing.

National headlines again

From gunshots to fights, to even an innocent young lady being hit by a car, a beautiful event went from successful to suspenseful in only a few hours.

Once again, the national media picked up on it and on Saturday night Daytona Beach became the No. 1 Twitter trending topic in the entire world, beating out Beyoncé and COVID-19.

On Sunday morning, our city was the headline story on CNN and TMZ, truly making this all come full circle. For a city that’s known for spring break, Monster Truck rallies and Bike Week, I’m almost offended by the outrage and criticism that has come down on our city.

Eighty-nine percent of the attendees were visitors from other cities.

I’m truly grateful that local leadership were able to avoid the firesstorm that happened in DeLand.

‘Street 2 Street’

Accountability is truly the key for us to move forward as a community. After reading a plethora of racist and dismissive comments made from national news outlets, I decided to take a stand and show that our city can come together in solidarity.

My organization, Community Healing Project Inc., has hosted street and beach cleanups as part of our “Street 2 Street” outreach program and we decided to host not only one but two – one on the beach and one right in the heart of Daytona Beach’s Black community.

Joined by a group of incredible, selfless individuals with hearts of gold, we picked up and removed several pounds of trash and debris and handed out water to a few people. Community service is the backbone of our organization and we are so proud of the changes being made in our community.

Rell Black is an award-winning activist, blogger and the founder of Community Healing Project Inc.

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