I saw the real America last week. It wasn't the White House, or Congress, or the Statue of Liberty. It was families from grandparents to grandkids lining Bay Avenue in Ocean Park to celebrate the Fourth of July by cheering the annual parade.
The parade, organized by the Ocean Park Area Chamber of Commerce, mirrors the community. I've driven my patrol vehicle in it ever since I've been Sheriff. There's no grand floral winner or fancy floats. It's as homespun as it gets. The patriotic emotions and passion are absolutely pure.
We stage on "U" Street. Simply lining up is one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire event. The Chamber tries to keep us organized but as soon as we arrive everyone starts visiting. It's like herding cats, but we always seem to start on time.
As we left the field and approached Bay Avenue and the start of the parade, I thought of and missed Ray Harrison. I used to like to watch him direct traffic. Ray had so many people wanting to say hello and talk with him that he always had a crowd around him, making it really difficult to direct anything. He was a fine man and a great deputy.
While we were stopped waiting for the Coast Guard flyover, I noticed a gentleman walking out of the crowd towards my vehicle. I'm in cop mode whenever I'm in uniform so the first thing I'm thinking is "threat." Nothing could have been further from the truth. As he came up to my patrol vehicle he reached out to shake hands and said, "Thanks for all you do." I didn't know him but he took the time to step away from his friends and family and shake the hand of a police officer in public. Mutual appreciation and respect carried through our handshake (grip). The memory will remain a bright moment for me. It reflected what we all hope endures despite the craziness that sometimes seems to envelope our lives. There truly still is a silent majority who still cares, recognizes right from wrong, and is willing to take personal risks to preserve our way of life.
As I drove down Bay Avenue through Ocean Park I saw many old friends and just as many new faces - all smiling and cheering as we paraded by. Just about every interest was represented. It was so much fun.
The confidence and pride of the Ocean Park community was very visible throughout the entire event. Our Sheriff's Office is happy to be a part of this renewal of spirit throughout all our county. I no longer felt the "us and them" mentality that can be such a barrier to success. There was instead a family feeling of acceptance and teamwork that's a credit to you and our officers and is the real strength of America.
I came away from the parade with a renewed feeling of trust and support. The key to success is simple. Make a decision to engage. Get involved, don't sit on the sidelines. Make a decision to inform yourself on important issues. Ask questions, talk to your neighbors. Finally, make a decision to take control of your elected officials at all levels. Hold them accountable. Know your priorities. Together we can accomplish whatever we choose.