By Greg Jackson
As wildfires ravage whole communities, hurricanes remain a constant threat and America tries to heal from the worst mass shooting tragedy, folks want – no, folks need – something
positive to look forward to and focus on. With all that is going on, we all crave something that will bring us together, will highlight the good in humanity, as well as focus on something positive in the world.
Well, in the city of Apopka an event is coming that will highlight Central Florida communities’ respective focus on bringing people together. The Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival, which will feature Grammy-nominated, Stellar Award-winning Gospel recording artist, Martha Munizzi, as well as other talented artists, such as Teki Dericho and the UCF Gospel Choir, promises to be an event to make Apopkans proud. This free event will promote the good in this community and will be a day of fun, food, and fellowship for families and friends, both old and new. At a time when we can find a million reasons to pull
Apopkans and Americans apart, this event, which is now in its second year, in essence, will pull us together. All of Apopka should be proud of what this means and stands for.
So, why then is the City of Apopka refusing to support or promote The Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival? As businesses, leaders in the faith community and individuals come together to make this event a reality and success, it is baffling – and quite frankly embarrassing – that Apopka has declined to contribute anything. I could understand if the City never contemplated having a Gospel festival, but the fact of the matter is that the
City has previously set aside approximately $60,000.00, if not more, for a Gospel festival, that it has not used. Also, the point cannot be missed that the City has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into festivals or events that promote country
music and symphony; so why then has the City made itself persona non grata when it comes to the Gospel festival?
Some may say it is because the Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival is in its infancy, and to that I say: you have to start somewhere. Besides that, as noted above the funds have already been set aside for a Gospel festival by the City and was fully supported by the Mayor. Others may say it’s because the City cannot support a religious festival due to the separation of church and state. To that, I simply say that that is false and will refer you to
the recent U.S. Supreme Court case of Trinity Lutheran Church Of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources. In short, in a 7-2 decision, the highest Court in the land held that efforts to separate church and state go too far when they deny religious institutions access to government funds meant for a secular purpose. In other words, if the only reason a governmental entity refuses to provide funds to a program, event, etc., is because the program, event, etc., is tied to a religious organization or purpose, the governmental entity is wrong.
The truth, however, may be in a statement that was shared with me under the condition of anonymity by a person in City Hall (or it is quite possible that I dreamt this up). This person, or my brain, said, “it’s not that the Mayor does not like the idea of the Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival, he just doesn’t like who is doing it.” Wow! This statement, if true is shocking for a number of different reasons, but let’s just deal with the most pressing – the organizers. The group that has assembled to organize the Spirit of Florida Gospel Festival, is highly qualified and capable of producing a top-notch event to make all Apopkans proud.
First, one of the organizers of the event is a seasoned Apopka business owner who has handled a multiple million dollar budget and regularly navigates through political minefields to get projects and programs approved on the State-level. The other organizer has operated a music foundation that has hosted major music events in Central Florida for over a decade. The other has assisted with the organizing of music festivals, one of which required the handling of artists from eight different countries, drafting and negotiating contracts and licensing agreements, as well as served as managing editor of the magazine that was the official publication for The Stellar Awards for a three-year period. No matter the reason, as one person opined as they tried to figure out why the City is withholding its support for an event that will appeal to a diverse group of people, this situation reeks of ultimate pettiness or displays a mindset that is better suited for a time and place 50 years in the past (their words, not mine).
Here is the good news, however, no matter what, barring some unforeseen disaster, there is going to be an outstanding event at the City of Apopka’s Amphitheater on October 28, 2017, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. While others continue to deal with the mass destruction and death that has occurred over the past several weeks from hurricanes, a mass shooting, wildfires, and more, in Apopka folks can come and let their minds be at ease, even if just for a few hours as we enjoy outstanding music, family, friends, food, and fellowship. As the very fabric of our nation is being tested and torn apart to some extent by this issue of NFL players kneeling in protest, now, is not the time for anyone, especially the City of Apopka, to take a knee on the opportunity to draw people together in a positive fashion – in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.