Members of the University of Florida women’s track team helped serve food at St. Francis’ homeless shelter.
Hourly News Update
Members of the University of Florida women’s track team helped serve food at St. Francis’ homeless shelter.
Protestors sing and chant through campus during the basketball game.
Students chant “Black lives matter” outside Gate 1 of the O’Connell Center.
Students and community members line up outside Gate 1 of the O’Connell Center.
Families join students and Gainesville community members in their march to the O’Connell Center.
Nursing student Lauren Rucker holds her sign high as protestors gather outside Tolbert Hall.
Students lie on the ground as part of a “Dead In.”
Alise Vick, left, and Billy Cross hold signs outside Tolbert Hall in preparation to march across the street to the Stephen O’Connell Center.
Demonstrators from the University of Florida Dream Defenders and UF Students for a Democratic Society protested for two hours outside of the O’Connell Center on Friday in response to the police actions in Ferguson and New York that lead to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Protestors marched from Tolbert Hall to Gate 1 of the O’Connell Center and held a “die-in,” which partially blocked people from entering the Gators men’s basketball game. The protest broke up around 7 p.m.
The City Commission’s decision to restore Northwest 8th Avenue to four lanes rather than two sparked a heated debate between unhappy community members and Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy.
“It is frustrating to be accused of not caring about safety when we had spent about 80 percent of those five hours talking about what we believed constituted the safest configuration for that roadway,” Braddy said.
On his personal Twitter account, Braddy tweeted a link to an article discussing the vote and the commission’s final decision.
After fellow Twitter users responded negatively, Braddy voiced his opinions on the decision.
Paul Benton, who voted for Braddy in the last election, started the Twitter conversation by expressing his disagreement. He favored the two-lane configuration mainly for safety reasons.
“After the mayor voted against options that served all road users with a higher degree of safety, I was angry,” the 25-year-old civil engineer said. “It is hard to see his vote as anything other than politically motivated.”
Neither Braddy nor Benton added the fatal crash on Northwest 8th Avenue to the conversation, which occurred less than 24 hours after the commission voted on the lane change.
Friday evening, motorcyclist Thomas Coady drove through a red light and crashed into Tolar Powell’s truck as he turned left off Northwest 34th Street, according to the police report.
Both Coady and passenger Halie Guelfi died from injuries in the accident. The 22-year-olds were UF students.
Braddy was driving in the neighborhood after just dropping his kids off at their mother’s house. He tweeted a picture of the scene and incorrectly stated the riders were a father and child. The mayor said he was misinformed by a bystander. After the mayor tweeted a picture from the accident scene, the conversation escalated.
“People think I want to have dangerous conditions in Gainesville where people get hurt and that is deeply offensive and completely wrong,” Braddy said. “I was in the area and saw the aftermath, it was terrible.”
Brenton said Gainesville deserves better leadership.
“His highly inappropriate comments on Twitter exemplify political opportunism and warrant an apology to the families,” Benton said.
Braddy said he thinks the criticism intensified to an unnecessary level, and these comments impugn both his and his colleagues’ integrity.
Joseph Floyd, executive director of GetActive GNV, also participated in the conversation. Floyd lives just off of 8th Avenue and bikes the road regularly.
“I think it is unfortunate that it has become an issue of sides and we are no longer thinking about a holistic community,” Floyd said. “So many other things come into play besides just the facility itself.”
Though Floyd said he favors a two-lane version of Northwest 8th Avenue, he said he’s happy the city is taking measures to make the four-lane configuration safer. Ultimately, Floyd wants to see a meaningful conversation result from the debate, if nothing else.
“At the end of the day, it is asphalt,” he said. “The fact that it has created such a rift in the community is not something I care to see persist.”
The commission instructed staff to investigate option five as well as possible pedestrian refuge medians further and bring back the results.
“I think we are all invested in adding the additional sidewalks and bike paths,” Hinson-Rawls said. “I feel very strongly that we will if we find a way to do it. It might even be a unanimous vote.”
The earliest the commission will discuss Northwest 8th Avenue is most likely at the January 15 meeting, according to Braddy. However, the mayor said he welcomes citizen discussion on any subject at any time.
Braddy said Gainesville has a more open and accessible city hall than they have perhaps ever had, and he encourages people to visit.
“I would love for people to come down and talk with me. I just don’t want the personal attacks. They don’t serve any purpose.”
Donna Boles’ desk is adorned with Santa figurines, while her computer screen saver flashes pictures of Jesus, the Coca-Cola polar bears and other Christmas designs. There is even a separate office in the Hawthorne Insurance building where she works as office manager and insurance agent, which houses plastic tubs filled with various holiday decorations.
With her love of holidays, particularly Christmas, Boles was thrust into an important role for the town of Hawthorne in 2006. Having just lost its Christmas parade organizer, the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce was left scrambling to find a replacement or face not having a parade.
The Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce requires that a board member oversee the festival. With no one else willing to take on the task, Boles, the treasurer at the time, volunteered.
“It was last minute [when the organizer stepped down], and the chamber was like, ‘Well, if no one else is going to step up and do it, we’re going to have to cancel it this year,’” Boles said. “When we notified people in the community, they all gathered up and had a meeting and they’re like, ‘We cannot have, after all these years, we cannot go a year without having the Christmas festival.’ … So that’s when I took it.”
Under Boles’ guidance, the parade and festival have gone off without a hitch for the last seven years. Boles has also moved from her role as treasurer to president of the Chamber of Commerce.
She begins planning the event each July with around a $2,000 budget, and as the holidays edge closer, Boles’ says role becomes more and more stressful.
“Luckily I have a job where I have the flexibility that I can devote as much time as I can to it,” Boles said.
Tammy Scott, a customer service representative at the Hawthorne Insurance office, joked about how much time Boles has to dedicate to the festival in the weeks leading up to it.
“If someone calls and they need auto insurance, I can help them out,” she said. “If they need homeowner’s insurance or [something more involved like that], we ask them if they can wait until after the holiday season is over.”
The parade and festival draw an estimated 3,000-5,000 people to Hawthorne, a community of about 1,400. Two-time Christmas Festival donut-eating champion and Hawthorne Mayor, Matt Surrency said that the economic impact on Hawthorne is a small part of why the festivities are important to the town.
“The best thing it does for Hawthorne is it brings people from outside the city into the city to see downtown and show off our area, our community,” he said. “It brings people together. Especially people nowadays don’t interact as much socially as they would normally do, unless it’s on like social media or something.”
This year’s festival theme is “An American Christmas” and features Cpl. Duane Dewey of Cross Creek, a neighboring community. Cpl. Dewey served in the U.S. Marines and is the only living Medal of Honor recipient in Alachua County, according to Boles.
The festival, which begins at 11 a.m. on Dec. 13, features free pictures with Santa, carnival rides, arts, crafts, food booths and music from local country musician Clay Brooker, according to a City of Hawthorne press release.
“It’s just good to see everybody come together for this little event,” Boles said. “I’ve always said it’s almost like a hometown reunion where everybody gathers up downtown and sees everybody they haven’t seen in a while.”
Jacob Easterling, an electrical engineering senior at UF, kneels by his project for an Intelligent Machines Design Class. His "Team Clean Sweep" project involved two robots responding to sound to sweep objects off a mat.
Dozens of children huddled around a small arena offset by cardboard boxes. Their parents, college students and professors all stood behind, each trying to get a look at the mind-controlled robot.
The robot started to move and emit a beeping noise, as Islam Badreldin, a doctoral candidate, controlled it via a headset. Badreldin designed the technology as a proof-of-concept to one day create a brain-controlled wheelchair.
At the bi-annual Robot Demo Day held at the University of Florida Wednesday, students in an Intelligent Machines Design Lab course showed off their robot inventions.
The students in the course started work at the beginning of the semester by pitching their idea, designing it on paper, simulating it on a computer and then building the robot, according to Dr. A. Antonio Arroyo, who teaches the class in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The purpose of the event, which has been held since 1994, is to give students an opportunity to show off their work and get an incentive to talk to companies and market their state-of-the-art robots.
All of the robots shown have real-life applications, Arroyo added.
For his class project, Jacob Easterling created “Team Clean Sweep.”
Easterling, an electrical engineering senior, said he enrolled in the class to become more marketable to companies and add this accomplishment to his resume.
In “Team Clean Sweep,” two robots, Seekerbot and Debrisbot, communicate with sound to sweep small targets off of a mat. All Easterling does is tell the robots when to start.
Some, like Easterling, build their robots solely for class. Others enter their robots into competitions. At the event was the PropaGator, built by seven students that won the RoboBoat competition in 2013 and received second place in 2014.
Gio De La Torre took a lighthearted approach to his design, naming it “Mr. 32 Bits.”
Mr. 32 Bits responds to frequencies emitted by a speaker held by De La Torre.
It was designed to wander around at football games and do an action to celebrate when a sound is played after a touchdown or field goal is scored.
Arroyo said he continues to be impressed by the quality of the robots the students produce.
“Engineers are judged by producing pudding,” he said. “And here, the proof is in the pudding.”
The Rev. Thomas A. Wright, former president of Alachua County NAACP and prominent African American activist in the Gainesville community, died Tuesday night at the age of 94.
After serving in the Army during WWII and attaining a ministry degree at Howard University School of Religion, he became an advocate for education and integration.
“We are saddened because a giant in our community has fallen,” said Evelyn Foxx, current president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP.
Foxx said the loss is very personal and was disturbed upon hearing the news Tuesday. She said she tossed and turned most of the night as she thought of the many times she went to lunch with Wright, who was her mentor and confidant.
“He had this big voice, and when he spoke, you had no other choice but to listen,” Foxx said. “He had a quiet demeanor where he would listen, but, oh boy, when he opened his mouth, he captured everybody’s attention because he had so much to say.”
When it comes to Wright’s contribution to the NAACP and Alachua County, Foxx said there was no way she could begin to think about or measure all the contributions Wright made to the community.
His most recent contribution, in February 2014, was when Wright donated $50,000 to Santa Fe College to create an endowment fund to help students who live in low-income, multi-family housing, Foxx said.
“He donated $50,000 of his own money – his own dollars,” Foxx said. “He put his family’s life on the line to bring about justice and equality for African Americans.”
Jean Chalmers, former Gainesville city commissioner and member of the Alachua County NAACP during the Rev.’s presidency, worked with Wright throughout the Civil Rights Movement, she said.
“He had this compelling voice, and a gentle, strong manner, so naturally whenever we formed a little group for civil rights action, we would always look to Rev. Wright as a leader, participant or a spiritual guide,” Chalmers said.
At the time of Wright’s presidency, Chalmers and her husband, David, who went to jail with Martin Luther King Jr. during the St. Augustine civil rights marches, were two of several white members of the Alachua County NAACP, she said. However, the list of members was private and wasn’t written down anywhere because lives and jobs would be at stake, according to Chalmers.
“When we did march, (Wright) was always right out in front instructing us how to be cautious and how to be careful, and when any of us went to jail, he was always there trying to raise the money to bail us out,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers said her favorite memories of Rev. Wright were when he spoke at meetings held downstairs at the old Mt. Carmel church, where he would share the words and philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Wright leaves behind a legacy of “racial justice and vocal education and protest against injustice and racism” Chalmers said. “He was really a man of God.”
“I hope, well, in fact, I know that his legacy will live on,” Foxx said. “It will be a big shoe to fit, but we can at least try.”
The funeral will take place this Saturday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m. at Mt. Carmel Church, 2505 NE Eighth Ave.
Roberta Fiorito contributed to this report.