The mission of Bridges Project Ocala-Marion County is to break through barriers among racial and social groups and individuals in Marion County, and to build pathways to understanding for the reduction and elimination of conflict.
Bridges Project started in January, 2015 as a study group following a Friday Forum on the topic of racism that was heavily attended and had a passionate audience response.
Bridges Project took the lead in organizing for removal of the Confederate flag from McPherson Government Complex. Bridges’ activists contributed to the extensive public comments at County Commission meetings throughout the summer and fall of 2015. The flag was changed to a different Confederate flag (its first flag) , and its display moved outside the County Museum of History inside McPherson Government Complex.
Working groups have developed over time, and are the operational arms of the organization. Click the Working Groups tab to see what our groups are doing and see how you can contribute your gifts to the work of Bridges Project.
There have also been special initiatives like advocating for the first-ever Black History Month proclamation from the Marion County Commission, and regular participation in voter registration drives and voter restoration efforts. (See our Archives tab.)
Improving race relations in Marion County is a long term project. Out of Marion County's 175 years, only 45 years have passed since school segregation formally ended here. Racism has a long and deep history in Marion County beginning with its founding white settlers who brought their slaves with them from South Carolina. Progress has certainly been made, but much work still remains to be done.
PRESIDENT: Avelia "Bert" Perkins Bert hails from southern Louisiana. She graduated from Pepperdine University (BSci) and University of LaVerne, LaVerne, CA (MBA). She was Program Manager for the Riverside County (CA) Office of Education, General Manager for Jaguar Computer Systems, Riverside, all while operating her own real estate and tax prep company in Riverside for 22 years. Retiring to Georgia in 2006, Bert assisted nonprofit boards with board training, volunteer assessments, strategic planning, and grant research and writing . She also served on numerous community boards.
VICE PRESIDENT: Barbara Fitos A former County Commissioner, Barbara is a retired HR banking executive and retired Executive Director of the Community Foundation. She holds a BA (American Studies) from Douglass College of Rutgers University and a Master's in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University/ New Orleans. A 40+ year resident, she is active in many civic, cultural and community organizations. Barbara has one married son, attorney Joseph Fitos, and is “NanaB” to four beautiful grandchildren.
SECRETARY: Vanessa Hunter has lived in Marion County since the mid-1970s, raising her children here. She remembers her shock at seeing the KKK openly soliciting contributions on the Ocala Downtown Square in the early 1980s.
TREASURER: Bruce Seaman is a retired Presbyterian minister, a graduate of Adelphi University (BA) and Harvard Divinity School (MDiv), who is originally from Long Island, NY, who has lived in Marion County for 20+ years. He serves the Board ex officio.
Rev. Jill Carel was ordained as an Interfaith Minister in 2002. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. She has led classes at Master the Possibilities on Grounded Spirituality and Laughter Yoga. She is the publisher of “Self-Empowerment,” a personal development newsletter, in publication since 1993.
Gorham L. Black, III is a retired US Army Colonel who completed his military service as the Commander of the United States Army Garrison, Fort Meade, Maryland, retiring in 1990. Graduate of Howard University (BA), Syracruse University (MA), and the National War College. Post-retirement, he served in executive roles at Albany State University and Howard University, and served as the Director, Maryland, State Selective Service Service System for four years among several other positions.
Miquell Mack is an active local lawyer, United Methodist pastor, and leader of the Public Education Working Group. He grew up in Marion County, went through the public school system, and graduated from the University of Florida. He has worked with several non-profits in the past, like MAD DADs, Greater Ocala Community Development Corporation, and currently Kairos Prison Ministry.