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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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

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.

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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.)