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Embracing Diversity in Galveston

A few weeks ago, hanging out at Hey Mikey’s ice cream parlor down on Postoffice, crowd-watching while occasionally making sure to dam the butter-pecan stream making its way down my sugar cone, I was struck by something I had always seen but never noticed. You know the routine, the one where you stand in line with bated breath waiting your turn to find out what’s down there in the freezer – the 20 or so colorful flavors with names running the gamut from the basic Vanilla to the exotic Irish Car Bomb. The diversity of Hey Mikey’s double-scoops; the metaphor knocks me over. It’s never “I’ll have two scoops of Cookie Dough.” No, humans are an exceptional animal when it comes to the appreciation of, if not desire for, diversity in life. We like variety in our foods, our clothing, our music, and in our work. Indeed, very keen observers of human behavior swear to the notion that when choosing our mates, we gravitate toward our opposites. If variety is the spice of life, then Hey Mikey’s is a transcendent place in which diversity stands as its raison d’etre.

Galveston itself is no different. The communal fondue pot we find ourselves in on these mere 80 square miles of barrier island, vectored through history to be a place of cultural diversity a very, very long time ago. From the seasonally nomadic, indigenous Karankawa and Akokisa tribes in the 15th Century, to the later occupation by slave smuggling Europeans, Caribbean islanders, and more recently the Jewish immigrants passing through the Pelican Island station during the Galveston Movement of the early 20th Century, Galveston’s history is one in which the thread of hopes and dreams weaves its way through a rich tapestry of race, religion, sexuality, wealth, poverty, intellectualism, criminality, BOI and IBC, personal and professional mobility, political power, and political subjugation.

Still, while we are undoubtedly a diverse population, Galveston has significant diversity problems. For example, though the Black and Hispanic residents of our community comprise over 25% of the population they make up less than 1% of the membership in the governing and oversight bodies of City Council, the Park Board of Trustees, and the Wharves Board of Trustees. And, chances are, that percentage will not change following the upcoming municipal elections this May. Why?

Galveston City Council meetings used to be in the evening but changed to daytime meetings. Evening meetings meant more access to governance by a more diverse part of the population. The result of this change restricts the voice of the Everyman. Perhaps we can revisit making membership more diversified and inclusive by considering switching for a while to evening hours.

Also, few people in this city actually vote. Of the 50,000 or so citizens in the city, only about 10% actually vote in City Council races. But while voter turnout is woefully inadequate, voter registration is not. Many people whose lives could be more positively affected through the act of voting for representation that reflects their station, beliefs, values, are registered but simply do not vote. Indeed, to paraphrase Dr. King from his Dream speech, many Galvestonians believe they have nothing for which to vote. Marry this attitude with a voting intimidation from civic education status, and you foster the inactive voting rolls in certain parts of our city that ensure the perpetuation of a status quo designed to keep them in their place. For Galveston to realize the true meaning of its destiny as a community of diversity capable of bringing opportunity to all who live in it, we must to more to ensure our citizens are inspired to preserve and protect it from forces that would do harm to our culture, and our unique Island life.

We welcome and savor the variety two or three different scoops brings us at Hey Mikey’s. Why shouldn’t we equally and wholeheartedly embrace and encourage the richness of Galveston’s diversity and perspectives that diversity bring to the governing discourse?

All Vanilla all the time? Who wants that?

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