By Andy Fillmore / Correspondent
Among the activities is a basketball game coached by Drayton Florence and Natrell Jamerson.
Ocalumni, a nonprofit formed in January by a group of Vanguard High School graduates, will hold a Marion County Alumni Weekend starting Friday. Events will include a basketball game, beautification project, a church service and more.
Malcolm-Omari Davis, CEO of Ocalumni and a 2013 Vanguard graduate, said the group was formed after he and fellow VHS graduates Cameron Livingston, Michael Thomas, Travis St. John and Natrell Jamerson discussed needs of Ocala youth, local crime, and the need for better and affordable housing.
Davis, who now lives in Tallahassee, emphasized the importance of community involvement with youth.
“The African proverb tells us ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ but so often the villagers leave the village and frown upon the child for their wrongdoings. Some of our responsibility as villagers is to show and provide an easier way to positive thinking and living for said child. This weekend is dedicated for all alumni to come back to Ocala and share wisdom that was garnished throughout the years,” Davis wrote in an email.
The motto of the group is: “To change, we must educate the generation behind us.”
The Marion County Alumni Weekend will open with a panel discussion, “Life Outside Ocala — A Family Meeting” on Friday evening at the Appleton Museum of Art. It will include medical professionals, entertainers and politicians. Panelists will discuss the benefits of their upbringing in Ocala, according to Davis, who suggests attendees be 16 or older.
A beautification project will take place Saturday morning at Parkside Garden Apartments, which will include planting a community garden “in a place that can be viewed as dark or troubling” and demonstrating “a flower grows wherever it is loved and nourished,” Davis noted.
On Saturday evening, the basketball game, open to participants holding a two- or four-year college degree apart from the armed services, and first responders, will be played at Vanguard. It will be coached by NFL veteran and 1999 VHS graduate Drayton Florence and 2014 VHS graduate Jamerson, now in his second year with the Green Bay Packers and previously with other teams.
A church service will be held Sunday at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church. The Rev. Stanley Jacobs, pastor of the church, praised the Ocalumni mission of mentoring from generation to generation.
He said when he served as assistant superintendent for human resources with Marion County Public Schools, there was a move to hire teachers who had been through the local school system; this group’s outlook “mirrors” the same idea.
Davis said he attended a Jacksonville Jaguars football game last August in Jacksonville with a friend from Ocala to see Jamerson play and they ran into Florence, who for years has hosted football camps, special events and educational programs in Ocala.
Davis said he was struck with the impact of the players on youth, and the importance of any given generation reaching back to encourage and support the next generation. He said he wants the group to provide tools for success in everyday tasks perhaps not learned in school — for example, banking and arts and crafts-oriented pursuits.
“I am excited to start giving back to the community. We need more active black men in the community to show young men and women that there are people who believe in you. We hope to be the spark that ignites others to join with us or start their own organizations to help others. We will have more events to come in the future as well. We love our city and we want to help as much as we can,” Jamerson wrote in an email.
Davis is the son of Berry Davis, and his great-uncle was the late Rev. Frank Pinkston, a clergyman and civil rights activist in Marion County in the 1960s.
Berry Davis said he believes his son is inspired by Pinkston and also by the memory of his mother, Anita Ann Davis, who died three years ago.
Berry Davis said many men have inspired him, and he is inspired by individuals at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.
“Many say they want to give back to the community, but they don’t do it. Ocalumni is doing it. I’m thankful,” he said. He called the group’s Marion County Alumni Weekend “awesome.”
To learn more about Ocalumni and the events, call 510-213-1600.