In Tampa, International Women’s Day is a Celebration of Immigrant Voices

In Tampa on Thursday, International Women’s Day was ushered in at Ybor City’s Centennial Park with the International Women’s Day: Stand with Immigrant Women event held by the Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition. Nearly 100 attendees gathered to celebrate local immigrant women’s voices who feel an urgency to express their stories as immigrant women that feel under siege in the Trump presidency, as immigration enforcement partnerships with ICE in Hillsborough and sixteen other counties have been recently initiated, according to the Bradenton Herald.

“My family was undocumented for some years, so we understand the plight of undocumented people,” said Pamela Gomez, an event organizer. “Which has lead into a lot of the work I do with the community in fighting for immigrant rights,” she added.

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Tampa Immigration Attorney Ahmad Yakzan explains the change in litigation from the Obama to Trump Era, (below).


Manatee’s Coleman is a Professor, Political Scientist, and First Time Candidate

Liv Coleman addressed her class on Friday at the University of Tampa. ( Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

Liv Coleman hopes that Manatee County will send her to Tallahassee to unseat Republican incumbent Joe Gruters  as a first time Democratic Candidate for the District 73 seat in the Florida State House of Representatives. Coleman, 38, received a strong introduction to voters from Manatee County Democratic Party Sheryl Wilson at a local workshop last month, and has been a resident of Bradenton since 2015. Coleman believes that in addition to her being a political scientist and educator, listening is the key strength for her as a candidate.

“I think we’ve seen politicians recently who don’t necessarily hold town halls, who may or may not be in good contact with their constituents,” Coleman said. “I hope to reach out to as many people as possible,” she added.

Liv Coleman

For more information on Liv Coleman’s candidacy, click here.

At Drago’s, Fernando Drago’s Passion is Serving his Community

Fernando Drago, owner of Drago’s Cuban Cafe. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

Fernando Drago has led many different professional lives.

He’s worked as a carpenter, construction worker and an oyster shucker.

For the last three years, Drago’s latest incarnation has been the Chef and Owner of Drago’s Cuban Café in Downtown Bradenton, where the restaurant was reviewed in 2017 by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.  The restaurant is known for its unique take on the Cuban sandwich amongst other dishes, that combine Drago’s diverse Italian and Cuban heritage.

For Drago, his love of cooking started with his family when he was just four years old watching his father, also a chef, cook in various restaurants in the New York Metropolitan area.

“My parents were dancing and cooking, but cooking was the big thing,” Drago said.

Six months after Drago and his wife, Ronda, opened the doors to Drago’s in Downtown Bradenton in Jan. 2014, Drago was diagnosed with bladder cancer. In not wanting to alarm his patrons or family, the couple decided to keep his diagnosis secret.
“I just never talked about it for the first year,” Ronda explained. “And then the second year when we had another scare, I had to at that point. I needed my family and my friends at that time,” she added.

Drago thrives on interacting with his customers. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

According to the American Cancer Society as of 2018, incident rates have decreased while mortality rates have stabilized. The National Cancer Institute states that the current 5-year survival rate for patients is 77 percent, according to studies conducted from 2007-2013.

Drago continued to work throughout his diagnosis, and claims that in battling his cancer, the fight was another formative experience in his professional life.

“I’m proud to have made it through all that, proving to myself that I’m blessed,” Drago said. “It’s toughened me up, build character. That’s all it is,” he added.

For more information on Drago’s, click here.

Manatee Democrats Hold Saturday Workshop to “Build on the Blue Wave”

On Saturday morning, the Democratic Party of Manatee County held a training event for prospective volunteers in advance of the 2018 midterms at IMG Academy Golf Club in Bradenton. The local party is hoping to build on the momentum of last week’s special election win by Sarasota Democratic Challenger Margaret Good, as reported in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Good’s win was amplified by national media, as Saturday’s workshop in Manatee called on volunteers to help the party “Build the Blue Wave,” in advance of November’s midterm elections.

On Saturday morning, the Democratic Party of Manatee County held a training event for prospective volunteers in advance of the 2018 midterms at IMG Academy Golf Club in Bradenton. The local party is hoping to build on the momentum of last week’s special election win by Sarasota Democratic Challenger Margaret Good, as reported in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Good’s win attracted national media attention, as Saturday’s workshop in Manatee called on prospective volunteers to help the party “Build the Blue Wave” in advance of November’s midterm elections. The all-day event was MC’d by Manatee Democratic Party Chair, Sheryl Wilson, who shepherded the day’s events of fundraising and strategy sessions amongst district and precinct members, in addition to introducing up and coming Democratic candidates.

“I don’t want to make apologies for the fact that this is a working meeting,” said Wilson to attendees on Saturday. “If we do our job, so they can do theirs and stand for these beliefs we all hold,” Wilson added.

Manatee Democratic Party Chair, Sheryl Wilson (above) introducing democratic challengers for 2018. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

According to New York Magazine’s The Cut, 2018 is shaping up to be a banner year for women running for elective office.  One first-time candidate in Manatee County is Liv Coleman, an associate professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Tampa. Coleman, a Minnesota native, is running against GOP incumbent Rep. Joe Gruters for the District 73 house seat and cautioned against the rise of the ‘alt-right’ on the Gulf Coast.

“We have some people who are willing to cut democratic corners and who have embraced an alternative form of nationalism,” said Coleman in a video message to attendees on Saturday.

The Republican party now holds a majority of those elected to office in Manatee, as GOP congressional incumbent Vern Buchanan has held onto his seat in the U.S House of Representatives, since 2007. To Buchanan’s 2018 Democratic challenger David Shapiro, who stopped by the event on Saturday, female political engagement is essential in this year’s election.

Democratic U.S congressional candidate David Shapiro gave a speech at the workshop on Saturday. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

“They are the one’s making the difference in voter turnout,” said Shapiro in an interview on Saturday. “We’ve seen it all over the country, and we’ve just recently seen it with Margaret Good,” Shapiro added.

For more information on the activities of the Manatee County Democratic Party, Click here.

For more information on the Sarasota/Manatee Democratic Black Caucus, click here.

Protest Rally Calls for More Oversight In Wake of Mobley Shooting

Ruth Beltran of Answer Suncoast organized the event on Saturday. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

On Saturday evening, protesters arrived at the Desoto Mall in Bradenton to host another rally challenging Manatee County Law Enforcement’s account of the Jan. 23 shooting death of 38-year-old Bradenton resident, Corey Mobley. The “Justice 4 Corey Mobley” rally was organized by local activist organization Answer Suncoast, where protesters called for independent oversight of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office ongoing investigation.

“The Sheriff’s account matches to the T the number one racist stigma that black men have super powers,” said Ruth Beltran of Answer Suncoast. “We want to demand that there is community control and independent oversight of both the City Police and the Sheriff’s Department,” Beltran added.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Sheriff Rick Wells asserted during a Jan. 30 press conference that witnesses accounts verify that Deputy Patrick Drymon was threatened by Mobley before firing his weapon, as Mobley continued to approach Drymon after being shot. Beltran and the protesters reject the Sheriff’s Office official account of the incident, and accuse the department of promoting a false media narrative to vilify Mobley, where Body-worn cameras could have clarified the situation for the public.

“He was a loving father of four kids and also a member of a bible baptist church in Palmetto,” Beltran said.

Demonstrators continued to protest after sunset on Saturday. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

Traffic temporarily shut down on 301 Boulevard West, as protesters marched across to the nearby Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and continued their demonstration eastward at the intersection of Route 41 later that evening. Protesters chanted, “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace,” while being escorted by Manatee Police, as motorists driving by honked their horns in support of the demonstration.

For Beltran, it is now a waiting game.

“We would like the sheriff to actually initiate the independent investigation,” Beltran said. “He has the power to do so, and I feel it’s the right thing to do,” she added.

For more information on Answer Suncoast, click here.


Manatee NAACP Holds Emergency Meeting for Bradenton’s Minority Community

Manatee County NAACP President Rodney K. Jones addresses the audience on Thursday.
Manatee County NAACP President Rodney K. Jones addresses the audience on Thursday. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

On Thursday, the Manatee County NAACP held an emergency meeting for Bradenton’s minority community at St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Bradenton. The meeting was in response to county officials meeting with the Florida Department of Transportation on their Desoto Bridge Flyover Proposal  , as reported in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Wednesday. Bradenton residents also reacted to the controversial unarmed shooting death of Bradenton resident Corey Mobley by the Manatee Sheriff’s Office, as reported in the Bradenton Herald on Jan. 24.

Rodney K. Jones, 51, a born and raised Bradenton local and the President of the Manatee County NAACP who organized the event, hopes that the general call for all Manatee County residents to meet on Thursday broadened the awareness of the minority community’s plight.

“It was a really eclectic group, and the only thing we really wanted to do was expose our condition, because many people don’t know,” Jones said on Friday. “If you’re not directly impacted or it doesn’t impact your family or your neighborhood, a lot of times you’re not conscious of the bigger picture of the community that endures a much different condition,” Jones added.

The FDOT proposal is to build a “flyover” elevated throughway on RT.41-301 in Bradenton to alleviate traffic congestion and increase mobility, which has been a top priority to the city according to the Central Manatee Network Alternative Analysis. Jones along with local community and activist leaders from Answer Suncoast and Black Lives Matter Manasota argue that the current FDOT plans violate their own civil rights program and are in line with a pattern of non-responsiveness to minority community concerns. In response to their claims in a Jan.30 Bradenton Herald article, FDOT District One Growth Management Coordinator Lawrence Massey was quoted stating that FDOT had conducted several official meetings in Bradenton and Palmetto, outreaching to minority communities affected by project with significant turnout.

Jones contends that these FDOT meetings were out of reach for Bradenton’s minority community as part of a historical effort to disenfranchise the community.

“They held all of the public workshops outside the community,” Jones said. “If you were elderly or had to walk, you wouldn’t make it.”

Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells was also in attendance on Thursday, as community activists addressed their concerns to him directly. Natasha Clemons, 46, of Bradenton, gave an emotional plea to the Sheriff as a first-cousin of Corey Mobley and a mother of Randall Mitchell, a 23-year-old man who was fatally shot by Sarasota police during a June 2012 traffic stop.

Manatee County NAACP Emergency Meeting
Natasha Clemons, mother of Rodney Mitchell and first cousin to Corey Mobley, addresses the audience. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

“My first cousin Corey Mobley was shot and killed, some say execution style, by a Manatee Sheriff,” Clemons said. Clemons added, “So what do you have to say about that Mr. Wells? You’re the head.”

According to Manatee Sheriff Office statistics featured in a June 2016 WWSB ABC 7 article,“50 percent of the suspects in those officer involved shootings were black. Compared to the City of Bradenton’s overall black population, which is only 16 percent according to the most recent information from the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Jones feels optimistic that the future organizational plans will be a step in the right direction, but they do have a limited effect.

“We can rattle all the cages that we want to, but if we don’t make changes in legislation, laws, policy and procedure, we really haven’t done anything but make noise,” Jones said.

For more information on the organizing efforts of the NAACP and Answer Suncoast, click here.

(Correction, 5:03 p.m: This story was edited to correct that Natasha Clemons is a first cousin, not ex-wife of Corey Mobley. We regret the error.)

A Manatee Dreamer Helps Her Community as DACA Fades

Manatee County residents listen to the Florida Immigrant Coalition’s presentation on DACA and civil rights protections. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

On Sunday, Holy Cross Catholic Church of Palmetto hosted the Protect the People Clinic & DACA Renewal, an event organized by the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC). The event offered information on civil rights, free legal screenings, and emergency planning for Manatee county residents looking to impacted by the September repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. FLIC volunteer coordinator Patricia Lara, 29, of Bradenton, is a DACA recipient and a Manatee local.

“It’s Manatee County, you know, it’s home. This is where I’ve been since kindergarten through graduation,” Clara said. “That’s why I love working in it, because I know everybody, I know where everything is.”

According to Migration Policy Institute data, as of September 2017 there are an estimated 27,000 DACA recipients in the state of Florida, where 72,000 non recipients meet the requirements to apply. For the immigrant community in Manatee, the County’s health department currently offers the immigrant community medical examinations and immunizations required for immigration status. On Jan. 17 the Bradenton Herald reported the partnership between the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office partnership with ICE to hold arrested undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours as a part of “basic ordering agreement.” According to the Herald article, Sheriff Rick Wells commented in response to the agreement, “We’re just trying to keep our community safe, and when you have a criminal illegal alien who has been committing crimes in our community, they need to be held accountable.”

Patricia Lara, 29, of Bradenton checks in arrivals at the event. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

To Lara, it is crucial that the immigrant community knows their rights to protect their loved ones in Manatee County, especially in the current political climate.

“Just to know how they can keep themselves and their family’s safe and protected and make sure that they understand that the even though they don’t have a documented status here, they still have civil rights.”

To learn more about the Florida Immigrant Coalition, click here.

County Fair Unites Manatee while the US Government Shuts Down

Manatee County Fair Pig Race
Fairgoers cheer the “Show Me Safari Pig Races” at the 2018 Manatee County Fair. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

The Manatee County Fair wrapped up its final weekend of festivities at the county fairgrounds in Palmetto, hosted by the Manatee County River Association. The fair promised “Good Food, Good Rides, Good Times” one last weekend for fairgoers to usher in 2018, even as early Saturday morning marked the beginning of the federal government shutdown following the one year anniversary of Trump presidency on Friday, according to CBS News. Despite these recent national events, fair organizers were optimistic in how the fair unifies Manatee County in times of adversity.

“There’s folks from every corner of this county that are involved with the fair,” said fair manager Daniel West, 48. “That’s what makes the fair so special, it’s almost like a homecoming for Manatee County.”

According to Manatee County Supervisor of Elections, President Trump won 56 percent of the Manatee County vote in the 2016 general election. A recent Florida Atlantic University Poll reported in a November 2017 Palm Beach Post article placed the president’s approval ratings in the state of Florida at 41 percent, slightly higher than current national average of 39 percent according to Gallup Poll featured in a January 16 Associated Press article.

Fairgoers were enjoying the warm weather after the bitter cold snap in early January. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)

“The government shut down nationally doesn’t affect me as much as the issues locally,” said Jason Drane, 39, a media professional and supporter of the president from Bradenton, who visited the fair along with his wife Gloria, 38, and two foster children.

“While we may not be shutting down the county government, we need to do some overhaul of some of the facilities are county does use, such as Centerstone, DCF and the various child welfare agencies,” Drane said.

“Otherwise these kids have no hope,” Gloria added.

The county fair has an enduring legacy when the nation has faced difficult times. In its 102 years of offering amusement for Manatee, the fair survived a loss of funding during the Great Depression and the brief discontinuation during the years of World War II according to the Manatee River Fair Association website.

“It means a lot to our county,” said West. “I think that we’re going to finish this weekend out with a bang and I think everybody is going to be real pleased with our turnout.”

For more information about the Manatee County Fair, click here.

Homeless of Manatee County Find Refuge in Woodland Campsite

17th Street East is an industrial backroad lined by towing and auto service companies, where the pavement gives way to a dusty dirt road as you reach its dead end. It is at this dead end where Oneco’s homeless community have constructed their woodland campsite after being displaced by the La Mexicana Flea Market fire reported in the Bradenton Herald in Dec. of 2016.

homeless trailer
An abandoned trailer homes several campsite residents. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)
“The police have changed,” said Sonia T, one of the encampment’s newer residents,(who asked not to be identified). Sonia added, “We like the people who bring food, but they haven’t been around here for a while.”
According to last year’s Point-In-Time Survey conducted by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the homeless count for the area in Manatee County outside of Bradenton has increased from 23 to 242 persons. Several non-profit agencies along with Suncoast have worked with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office in offering to provide services to the homeless communities across the county.
“We will visit homeless camps and supply the people that are there that they can get help, whether it be the Salvation Army or there are several organizations here that will help the homeless,” according to Dave Bristow of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

From inside the 17th Street East campsite, the homeless community tent homes are made up of salvaged building materials, such as plumbing fixtures, cement blocks and scrap lumber. Many of the residents have bartering system for tools and other wares that aid in their day to day survival. In the recent months, the winter cold and living within a floodplain has created challenges to the community.

Homeless Camp
Josh’s two-story structure that he himself has constructed. (Photo: Alexander Michael Buono)
“It wasn’t Irma, but actually a storm two weeks before that flooded the whole area, water up to these tracks,” said Josh, a man in his 50’s who has hand built the two-story structure set back from the train tracks (above). “I’ve lived in Buffalo, Sarasota, and this community is the most difficult to live in.”

For more information on how to get involved the non-profit special projects geared to helping Manatee County’s homeless, click here.