Seeking diversity in my community
Of all the data-driven stories I’ve written, “white Citrus” is the oddest.
It was decades ago when learning that Citrus County had the highest per capita white population in the state. The African-American population has hovered around 3%.
In 2015, when I last broached this subject, Citrus was still considered the whitest county in the state, according to the Census Bureau. Today it is 92% white and I didn’t bother to look up our rank.
I bring all this up because of how I spent a few hours Saturday, in the company of white and Black residents, discussing the African-American heritage of Citrus County.
(Before going any further, if you haven’t seen Nancy Kennedy’s Black History Month story in Sunday's Chronicle, give it a look.)
The event was the Citrus County Democratic Black Caucus providing an oral history of growing up in the South and in particular, these parts of Florida.
Their stories were charming, revealing and eye-opening.
They spoke of certain communities in this county where Blacks weren’t welcome. Those same communities, they said, are welcoming today.
They told anecdotes of being confronted with ignorance, even in the grocery store, and matching those words with a smile of encouragement.
Those who hadn’t grown up in Citrus knew of its black/white imbalance and wanted to move here anyway for the same reasons as everyone else: clean environment, friendly people, strong schools.
Even if it means an abundance of white faces. Black residents of Citrus County often share stories of meeting new Black friends at a clothing store or restaurant.
“They’ll say, “You’re the first Black person I’ve met.’”
As a white guy, it’s always a little uncomfortable writing about my Black Citrus County neighbors. No matter how much I empathize or try to understand, I’ll never get it. Never. Ever.
But I know what community looks like and that’s what I saw and experienced on Saturday.
Citrus County is going through a lot of changes. Traffic, growth, health care, political — and social. We need everyone at the table to figure it out.
I’ll admit to getting a little annoyed at a certain entitlement message coming from folks approaching the county commission in the last year.
It goes like this: “I moved to Citrus County because of its conservative values.”
It’s true Citrus has become fiery red politically. But the veiled message through some of these comments, almost in a smug way, sounds very exclusive.
“We’re here. We’re more important than others. Listen to us before you listen to them.”
That is dangerous ground and not where Citrus County wants to be. Historically, local government has ignored extremes, staying focused instead on the betterment of the community as a whole.
Folks who move to Citrus County for political reasons find themselves rather unhappy when they figure out we don’t tick that way. In fact, some already have told commissioners in emails how perplexed their votes are. They’re thinking solely along political lines, not community ones.
The conversation we had Saturday centered around community. How, I asked, does a Black population that has stayed stagnant all these years rise to meet the challenges that are coming our way?
The answer — one on one. We experience each other daily and when I’m willing to step outside my field of knowledge, the diversity of our community shines through.
I’m grateful for our diversity. I’m grateful for voices whose views come from lives far different from mine. I’m grateful for insightful discussion, conversation, debate — the very staples of a strong, vibrant community.
I’m grateful for 100% Citrus County.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.