United We Stand

Sharing the mirror of reflection

It’s undeniable. We live in a divided world.

In this, the 13th chapter of èBella èXtra, we present thought-provoking aspects of unity and the racial divide.

Following more than 400 years of ingrained racial inequality in America, can we, as a community, swiftly come together to appease the harsh civil unrest we’re witnessing today? If so, how do we start?

Perhaps the late Nelson Mandela said it best: “One of the most difficult things is not to change society — but to change yourself.”

Here, we offer a mirror to our readers in the form of profiles, essays and a quiz that helps identify inherent personal biases on many fronts, including racism.

And as the world continues to wobble on its COVID axis, we showcase two organizations, one serving disenfranchised populations and one that has taken fitness to the next dimension. We also share how to take advantage of discounted admission to the recently reopened Naples Botanical Garden, which has instituted new safety protocols to keep you safe.

We hope our content sparks meaningful reflection and discussion, steps necessary to affect change of any kind. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, people are not measured “in moments of comfort and convenience,” but by where they stand “at times of challenge and controversy.”

Our lives today require steady reflection.

Look closely and be well.

 
 
 
 
 

in this issue

The Quest for Unity

Love’s light breaks through the darkness

by Barbara Melvin

We have witnessed so many recent tragedies on social media, TV and radio, and in our streets. For the past few weeks, I have been asked by white friends and coworkers how it feels to be black in 2020 America. Recent incidents gave me a chance to reflect on that.

As I turn 50 this year, I wonder if things will finally change. How many more marches, protests, police brutality incidents and innocent people going to jail because of the color of their skin do we need?

“Driving while black” is a real thing. Just ask my dad, who was pulled over a few times because he fit a certain profile.

How much longer do we suffer in silence? Hopefully not much longer.

When we look at the world today, with all the negativity being displayed, we can be bitter and hateful, but what does that accomplish? Nothing. We look at all that darkness, but what we need to see breaking through that darkness is the light of love.

Love and understanding are two things that can be accomplished right now, and it does not cost anything. We see good police showing episodes of compassion and helpfulness. We see peaceful protesting amid agitation.

People, who are troubled and confused by words and actions designed to create division, are now reaching out for a deeper understanding of one another to create a path to unity and brotherly love.

Brotherly love outshines the darkness. It expresses mutual humanity, humility and compassion. Refereed by brotherly love, continuing dialogue will bring us along the necessary path of unity.

I have been in banking for 30 years and have held many leadership roles. Still, there’s no question that positions in commercial banking, investment banking and those on Wall Street are still predominately held by white men. I’ve been on the forefront of changing that. I was relocated to Florida from Detroit in 2001 to help diversify a bank. That was a good start.

As the bank’s vice president and community relations officer, I teach at many nonprofit organizations. I have discovered that the younger generation is more accepting of one another. They don’t see color as much. Young people are more tech savvy and willing to work together. It gives me a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

Millions of Americans are crying after seeing George Floyd’s senseless murder over and over again. With those images planted forever in their memories, more white people are now willing to step up and be heard.

Barbara Melvin Photo Credit: Tamara Boxx 

 

How can you help, you ask?

Start by having a profound, deep conversation about race with a person of color. We need to understand each other, to be more accepting of one another and to appreciate each other’s diverse backgrounds. Be ready to truly listen and respect one another and then act. 

What individual actions can help drive change?

Support black businesses, become a board member or volunteer at nonprofits that specialize in programs that support the black community.

What needs to happen at the community and national levels?

We need access to a better educational system, health care and opportunities to better jobs and housing.

I am hopeful for the day when we can all just be Americans: not black or white Americans, but just Americans. Once that happens, the real healing can begin.

I am a human being who happens to be black. We are the United States of America. The first two letters of the first two words do not say “YOU” or “I.” The first two letters say, “US.”

Let us travel down the path of unity and become one. And let the division be done.

Barbara Melvin is vice president/community relations officer at First Florida Integrity Bank. She has served on 12 nonprofit boards and has a gift for connecting people.

 
 

SPONSORED

Fitness of the Future

Florida Personal Training provides fitness to the masses in the time of corona

by Kathryn Regala

With the COVID-19 pandemic closing big-box gyms and keeping people in, exercise enthusiasts of all levels have been tasked with turning their homes into home gyms.

Understanding that even a pandemic isn’t a good excuse to skip out on exercise, the team of wellness professionals at Florida Personal Training (FPT) created a personal training format that caters to COVID times.

“The health and safety of our clients was the most important thing to us. We wanted to help our clients stay active and well during the pandemic,” reflects Kevin L. Chiddister, owner of Florida Personal Training.

FPT began by providing equipment for its clients to use at home, offering live video conferencing and creating online programs tailored to client needs. Through email and social media, FPT was able to provide mental health resources to keep clients’ spirits and activity levels up. For many, exercise was the only outlet to escape the banality of life at home.

Feeling the emotional toll of spending days quarantined at home, people felt less inspired to exercise, Chiddister explains. However, not exercising can weaken the immune system and make bearing isolation even more difficult. This negative feedback loop perpetuates an unhealthy and unhappy cycle, he says.

Naples Personal Training staff

Moving forward, FPT has adopted a hybrid model that provides both in-person and remote fitness options. The gym is now open with ample precautionary measures. Equipment is disinfected after each use, trainers wear masks and no more than two trainers and two clients are allowed in the 2,400-square-foot space at once.

To provide even more social distancing, clients can request private sessions with their trainer or therapist. For many who are uncomfortable with the high occupancy of traditional gyms, the privacy of personal training is a relief.  

The conditions of quarantine propelled FPT further into the future, Chiddister says, noting that the traditional gym model, even before quarantine, was waning, as people began to prefer a more personally tailored fitness experience.

Clients report the benefits of online classes, noting that not having to commute and sit in the car in sweaty clothes or pay for unused equipment add to the appeal. Additionally, trainers can guide clients through fitness programs with no distance limitation.

“Our new web portal will allow us to reach the community around the nation, especially for our clients who are seasonal. That way, we can stay connected all year round,” Chiddister says. “Now they can get sufficient training always.”

Whether providing sleep counseling, teaching youth how to safely lift weights or creating online fitness programs, Florida Personal Training is looking toward the future of fitness.

“Our goal is to inform, educate and empower our community about wellness to encourage a healthier way of life. We strive to accomplish our goal through education, fun and community,” Chiddister says.

“We want people to think of our team of experts as their wellness advocates.”

FloridaPersonalTraining.com

HOMETOWN HERO

Paying it Forward

Local pastor’s “protest” is all about the ripple effect

Seeking to escape the stresses that come from COVID-19 and civil unrest, local pastor Phil McMillan, executive and interim Naples campus pastor at Ocean Church, needed a break.

“With all this unfolding,” he said in a sermon about the death and murder of George Floyd, “we needed some time.” He took his family on a little trip to Sarasota.

Pastor McMillan also happens to be an African-American man.

There was so much turmoil, the pastor lamented.

“What can I do?” he asked God.

“You need to rest,” was McMillan’s heavenly reply.

With peaceful protests ensuing around them, McMillan and his family walked along the streets of Sarasota with their young daughter, hoping to gently illustrate “what’s going on in our world,” the pastor said. 

An elderly couple, probably in their 90s, the pastor recalls, stopped to chat with the family, sharing the warmth of their family, which includes 15 grandchildren.

The next morning, the pastor’s family came across a café that played gospel music. Seated, they took note when a white police officer walked in.

“Buy him whatever he wants,” was the message the pastor received from above. As the pastor rose from his seat, he recalls that people around him were probably thinking, “What’s going down?”

Phil McMillan

 

The shop owner took notice, too, and thanked the pastor for his graciousness. As he took his seat, the pastor recalls the Holy Spirit telling him, “That is your protest.”

 

He was being the change.

The pastor and his family returned to the café the next day, happy to see the elderly couple they had met there, too. The couple said they’d paid for the family’s food as the officer from the day before walked in.

Pastor McMillan asked to pay for his meal again, but the café owner interjected, saying he made sure no cops would pay for their meals there that day.

These are simple acts of mercy, McMillan says. “That small act was my protest,” he says. “Small acts of mercy can bring a ripple effect of change.”

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Elevating, Motivating, Educating

NAACP continues to rise for racial equality and justice

by Vincent Keeys

Vincent Keeys

 

The Collier County branch of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is a volunteer organization creating achievements during unprecedented times.

Since the Civil Rights era, the organization has spoken out on legislative issues: politically, economically, socially and most importantly, educationally.

Founded in 1909, the organization has been very controversial. However, the local branch is relying on a strategy to carry us out of this storm.

Living in an affluent community like Naples, we have had to change how we go about things. With there being so much uncertainty, the local branch has a sense of activism, participation and concern for the health and well-being for all. So many people are currently unemployed.

Locally, we provided 5,000 meals for people in communities affecting frontline workers. There are days that we provide basic life necessities, such as food, masks, gloves and cash card donations, keeping us in touch with the needs of the community, knowing that we live today so that we may fight again tomorrow.

As the Collier County organization’s president, I can tell you that we plan strategically for tomorrow, wanting others to remember the words of Dr. King’s dream: “That people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”  

That is why emphasis is placed on education. Much of our educational programming has seen change during these challenging times.

Our branch took into account the difficulty in servicing our Raising The Bar 5-year college preparatory program. (This year, we had to modify our academic summer camp to a digital online academy.) Every year, we accept a new class of 25 students from various schools for academic excellence. The first set of students graduated and are going on to colleges like Johns Hopkins University, University of Florida, Florida State University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, FAMU and Bethune Cookman College.

The evolution of changing our messaging — and maybe changing our tone —  illustrates that current and relevant requirements for equal rights remains the same.

 

The local NAACP branch remains creative, so that we give birth to rare gems like the LIFT (Leadership in Flight Training) program, an educational aviation opportunity in which some students receive pilot licenses before receiving their driver licenses.

Every year, in conjunction with Collier County Public Schools and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, we send students to flight school at the Naval Air Station. The flight training academy is an intensive, rewarding, once-in-a-lifetime experience. We provide a free scholarship to and from Pensacola for a six-day residency aboard the land-locked aircraft carrier, “Ambition,” where students live, see and smell the life of a naval aviator.

We continue to fight hard to meet the needs of the people and to elevate, motivate and educate against the disparities of racial inequalities and injustices of our society.

We are all in this together as one nation.

 

Vincent Keeys is the president of the Collier County branch of the NAACP:  National Association for the Advancement of Collier People. Learn more at https://naacpcolliercounty.org.

Now Open!

Safety protocols in place, Naples Botanical Garden reopens to the public

Naples Botanical Garden reopened to the public on Monday, July 6.

In observance of new safety protocols and to ensure social distancing standards, timed ticketing is part of the garden experience for all guests.

Through Oct. 1, Lee and Collier county residents can take advantage of discounted admission of $10 for adults and no charge for children. (Regular admission is $20 for adults and $10 for children.)

For safety enhancement and guideline information you’ll want to know about in advance of your trip, visit the “Plan Your Visit” page on Naples Botanical Garden’s website (https://www.naplesgarden.org/).

Photo Credit: Kathy Grey

S P O N S O R E D

Acing It

Swinging With Purpose supports local charities, provides COVID relief

by Julia Browning

Swinging With Purpose (SWP) is known for its fundraising contributions to local charities, having raised $900,000 to date. While fundraising is vital, the magic of the organization is in its advocacy and mentorship.

That’s something that can’t be quantified.

The volunteer board of directors selects charities that will most benefit from their work. Serving disenfranchised populations, these honorable nonprofits may not have a mature donor base and established community awareness.

 

“We look for grassroots organizations that are knee-deep in providing necessary services to the women, girls and children in our community,” says Swinging With Purpose’s founder, Diana Riley.

Casting a wide net of assistance, SWP chooses multiple beneficiaries each year through a formal grant application, which will open this year in September and continue through October 2020.

“One thing that’s clear is that the Naples community does have a disenfranchised population,” Riley says. “Our goal is to advocate for them and create community awareness that these pockets of need exist. We’re there not only to fundraise for these organizations, but to be their voice.”

With the onslaught of problems caused by COVID-19, SWP’s major fundraiser of the year, the annual Liberty Mutual Invitational Golf Tournament, was cancelled. But Riley and her team moved quickly to a “Plan B.” So far, they’ve completed two online raffles, along with other virtual activities, raising over $125,000.

SWP’s most recent virtual event was a July 6 fundraiser for Naples Therapeutic Riding Center (NTRC) and Valerie’s House. SWP used this virtual fundraising method as a teaching moment for the organizations.

“Many nonprofits are struggling with what to do or where to go with their fundraising plans. NTRC and Valerie’s House got an opportunity to experience a virtual fundraising method,” Riley says. “We are hopeful they take something away from that.”

As SWP continues to serve its beneficiaries, it has broadened its scope, fighting food insecurity and other issues specific to the pandemic. SWP volunteers and donors embraced the expanded goal, donating gift cards, sewing masks and meeting needs as best they could.

Its newly founded Community Outreach Committee also creates COVID-relief packages filled with personal necessities, such as hand sanitizer, paper products, wipes and masks to distribute to their family of beneficiaries, past and present.

 

“We established that committee, having no idea we were about to walk into a pandemic,” Riley says. “It was established to be a liaison for the community at large and they have stepped in with this pandemic and helped fulfill the ancillary services we’re providing throughout the community. SWP couldn’t exist and make the difference we’re making right now without this committed group of ladies.”

In summary, Riley says, “SWP has an amazing village of donors, sponsors and volunteers. They are all responsible for our success. Our village will not let COVID-19 win!”

To learn more about Swinging With Purpose and its beneficiaries, visit www.swingingwithpurpose.org.

Diana Riley

Brain Bias

Could you be unwittingly prejudiced?

by Julia Browning

When faced with a decision, we’re often advised to follow our gut. But what if our gut instincts are rooted in unconscious prejudices?

This is a phenomenon known as implicit bias, a concept Robin Hauser explores in “Bias,” her documentary film that won the Impact Award at the 2018 Naples International Film Festival.

Hauser began researching implicit bias, trying to determine if it’s behind what she calls “isms” that plague our society, such as racism.

“The more I read about implicit bias, the more it fascinated me,” Hauser said. “Here’s something that we all have … a survival heuristic, and yet, we don’t live in tribes anymore. We are supposed to live in these cosmopolitan societies, so how are these biases helpful, or how do they thwart us from living in modern society?”

 

Implicit bias can be hard to identify because it is intrinsic. People simply don’t realize they have it. That’s why Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald created the Harvard-based Implicit Association Test to measure unconscious biases by surveying people’s word associations.

As Banaji states in the film, implicit or unconscious bias is the “thumbprint of society on our brain.” What we’ve seen in pop culture and in our surrounding community sweeps in, affecting our brains in ways we have no control over.

This is particularly important, Hauser says, when it comes to how we affect those around us with our biases, citing the hiring process as a prime example. When it comes to choosing people to be around them, humans use a type of implicit bias called the “like-me bias.”

As the name suggests, people categorize others who are like them more favorably than those who are different, even using two different parts of the brain to think of people who are like them and unlike them.

Since the majority of businesses in the United States are owned by white Americans (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), this hiring bias can lead to systematically disenfranchising minorities.

Since you can’t re-hardwire your brain to fully eliminate implicit bias, Hauser suggests you surround yourself with people who are different from you. This allows you to become introspective when making decisions about people and holding yourself accountable to promote diversity and combat your own inherent biases.

“What’s important is to not beat ourselves up about the fact that we have these (biases) in us,” Hauser says, “but to really start to slow down and think, ‘How are they affecting the choices I’m making?’”

Would you like to measure your inherent bias? Project Implicit provides many tests that can help identify implicit biases on a variety of subjects.

Learn more here: www.implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html.

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society — but to change yourself.”

~ Nelson Mandela

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