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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.
Tim Stock, the co-founder of ScenarioDNA, a global innovation consulting firm and adjunct professor at the Parsons School of design, is an expert in forecasting cultural trends and behaviors. Stock and his cohorts have found a way to clarify media speculation by employing scientific methodology and research to deconstruct Trump’s tweets through a combination of semiotics, consumer anthropology and data science called “cultural mapping,” a process that Stock himself has co-created. ScenarioDNA’s research into the tweets of Trump’s first 100 days in office through cultural mapping offers insight into the present and future implications of Trump’s mentality through his tweets, as well as offer how as civic-minded American citizens and the news media can benefit from becoming more literate in semiotic analysis.
“There’s an interesting aspect to Trump where it’s almost sort of hiding in plain sight,” Stock said about the genius tweet. “Where he essentially never has to be right, he has to bury himself in untruths so it doesn’t really matter.”
To see more of scenario DNA’s cultural mapping projects, click here.
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.
According to the Point in Time census survey conducted this year by the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, the total number of homeless persons has declined from 474 in 2016, to 328 persons this past year. Despite this decrease in the number of homeless people in town, the City of Bradenton’s community redevelopment plan is a top priority for Bradenton officials heading into 2018.
(Avery Burke, senior specialist of homeless outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital in Bradenton, Florida, describes his journey to homeless outreach in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017.Information Source: Alex M Buono)
Avery Burke(see video above) is the senior specialist in Homeless Outreach for Centerstone Behavioral Hospital’s access center located in Bradenton, Florida. For Burke, a lifelong resident of Bradenton, coming into the awareness of the scale and size of Bradenton’s homeless population was a revelation he didn’t have until he started his professional journey.
“Once the door was open, it was like a mind-opening experience,” said Burke. “I didn’t notice all of this was there.”
According to the recommendations of the City of Bradenton’s Community Development Block Grant Program Consolidated Action Plan for the years 2017 to 2021, a stated goal for transitional housing is a city-subsidized program overseen by a non-profit with experience in transitional housing. The recent increase in population growth of residents in Bradenton and Manatee Counties as reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 2016, make the efforts for transitional and long-term housing of the homeless all the more urgent.
“We researched how we can do more affordable stuff,” Burke said. He continued, “You have the push on tiny homes, tiny home communities, all of the smaller; style one and two-person homes that can be built more affordably.”
In recent years, the downtown area of Bradenton has been undergoing an urban renaissance with the expansion of the Village of the Arts (VOTA) and the creation of the Bradenton Riverwalk. In 2013, the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority (DDA) proposed the multi-year urban revitalization project entitled “The Village Tapestry.” In June of 2015, the DDA stated that the goal for the Village of the Arts expansion was to acquire properties for mixed-used redevelopment that are, “targeted to a mix of Millennials, Boomers, and creative professionals who want to live, work, create, and play in an Urban Environment.”
“The absurdity and the tragedy is that the state has been through four decades of housing and population growth yet almost no attention has been paid to housing the poor. So, while there is lots of housing, there is very little affordable housing,” Burke said.
Wright added, “And what little there is, is threatened by gentrification and ‘revitalization’ efforts.”
The multiple projects for downtown revitalization have faced some pushback in the recent years, most volubly during a June 2015 city council vote, in which the council consolidated its control over the various community redevelopment agencies because some community members appealed to the council for more community involvement.
(Artist Mark Burrow describes the transformation of the Village of the Arts in Bradenton, Florida on Dec. 12, 2017.Information Source: Alex M Buono)
One newcomer to the Village of the Arts neighborhood, Mark Burrow(see video above), owner of the Art Junkies gallery and a longtime Sarasota resident and artist, cautioned that the City of Bradenton might be losing focus due to the multiple projects. “We’re still not done here. This (VOTA) has been almost twenty years in the making, and we’re still not connected to the Riverwalk.” Burrow added, “So starting new projects, great, but kinda focus on one at a time.”
To Avery Burke, the solution to house the homeless population in Bradenton is reaching out to those landlords and building owners willing to help. “It’s finding that person that has a heart and is willing to help in putting in as many people as they can.”
For more information on Centerstone’s mental health services, click here.
For more information on the Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, click here.
Manatee County Law Enforcement is one of the select counties in Florida that has not opted to integrate body-worn cameras within its ranks and yet, has found recent success utilizing automated license plate readers as a tool to combat crime in Manatee County, according to recent articles in the Bradenton Herald and WFLA.com.
The beginning of 2017 sparked a new public policy debate in the state of Florida surrounding surveillance and body camera technologies.
In 2017, the Florida state senate bill 624, co-sponsored by Senator Greg Steube (R), son of recently retired Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, was passed into law. SB 624 along with House Bill 305, mandates that along with establishing policy procedures for body-worn camera technologies, a provision allows law enforcement officers to review body camera footage before writing their official report or providing testimony. In the previous years of 2014 and 2015, the state legislature passed SB 226 and SB 248, two laws that were devised to create public record exemptions due to privacy concerns of individual citizens regarding automated license plate reader systems and body-worn cameras, respectively.
In the Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Report for 2017, the report states in response to the passing of SB 624 and HB 305, Florida Sheriffs will, “have to update their policies and procedures related to body-worn cameras to allow an officer to review body camera footage before writing a report or making a statement about an incident.”
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has consistently supported the legislative agenda set by the state’s sheriffs association. In a 2015 Bradenton Herald article detailing local law enforcement reactions to the passing of HB 93, requiring law enforcement agencies to develop procedural rules for body-worn cameras, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Dave Bristow stated that the department was still in a holding pattern and monitoring how agencies were doing.
According to a 2013 Bulletin published by the Department of Justice on Local Police Equipment and Technology, an “estimated 32% of departments reported they provided body-worn cameras for at least some of their patrol officers.” The DOJ findings in the bulletin reported further that, “An estimated 17% of departments used automated license plate readers in 2013.”
In January of 2017, the ACLU updated its current recommendations for Body-Camera policing, stating, “we hope that these best practices will become widespread in order to ensure that body cameras are not reduced to yet another surveillance tool, but actually serve their intended function as a check and balance on police power.”
For more information on the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office, click here.