DAYTONA BEACH – City island was the scene of people laughing, dancing, hula hooping, playing games and chatting about a storm on Saturday morning.
So when the gray sky turned into a downpour, the more than 150 people gathered for the inaugural Daytona Unity picnic simply moved into a large tent and continued the festivities.
“This is what joy looks like,” exclaimed Willie Williams as he led a contingent of dancers doing the electric slide to music provided by a local DJ.
The free event was held to bring the community together following the June 23 shooting of Daytona Beach Police Officer Jason Raynor.
“We are very happy with the turnout,” said Brooks Tomblin, a local financial advisor who came up with the idea to host the event.
“We had a bit of bad weather earlier and we still had people going out,” he said.
The event was originally planned as a unit march that was to walk participants along the Veterans Memorial Bridge. Tomblin and co-host Williams have agreed to change the format to a community picnic at the request of the city.
Turning it into a picnic, with the help of donated food, coffee and water from restaurants in the area, allowed people to spend more time getting to know each other, which was the main goal, a said Tomblin.
“I am delighted with the outpouring of love and support for our community as well as the support for Constable Raynor,” said Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry.
Wounded officer making progress
Raynor was shot dead on the night of June 23 while patrolling the Kingston Avenue area. The man accused of shooting him, Othal Wallace, has been arrested for attempted first degree murder and is being held in Volusia County Jail.
Monzell Ford, chief chaplain of the Daytona Beach Police Department, was one of many religious leaders in the area who led the rally in a prayer session during the unit’s picnic.
“I know Officer Jason Raynor very well,” said Ford before the start of the event. “I will visit him and his family in the hospital every day. Every day his condition is improving. His mom wants me to express the family’s gratitude. They understand the impact that this event may have and that Jason would have definitely approved. “
Matthew Nelson, commercial manager of the electricity workers union IBEW, Local 756 in Port Orange, said he decided to attend because “it’s something that we need right now with all the divisions of our company.
Port Orange residents Brandon Whaley and Cassandra Mills brought their three children, daughters Paisley, 3, and Nevaeh, 2, and seven-month-old son, Brandon Jr.
“We are here to support the community,” Whaley said.
Several participants, including Bob Devereux from the Palm Coast, wore pins that read “Make Racism Wrong Again”. Others wore t-shirts emblazoned with the word “UNITY” and shirts proclaiming their support for Raynor and the Daytona Beach Police.
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“See me as your neighbor, as your friend”
Ormond Beach resident Huda Aljonaidy, member of the Daytona Beach Islamic Center, addressed the crowd after the prayer session to express support for the union of people of all races, colors, walks of life and religions.
“You can see me as a simple woman, which is not an insult, or you can see me as an immigrant, which is not an insult, (but) you can also see me as your neighbor, like your friend, ”she said. to applause and cheers.
Clinton Ford, a resident of Daytona Beach, known by the stage name “DJ Strength”, donated his services to provide music for the event.
“That’s a great thing, man,” he said, observing the crowd.
Tomblin said he and Williams, deputy principal of Starke Elementary School in DeLand, are already planning to host another Daytona Unity picnic next year.
“I believe this is the start of bringing our community together,” said Tomblin. “I think this is a powerful statement for the community.”