Community activist calls for more diversity in Biloxi leadership

Community activist calls for more diversity in Biloxi leadership
The city council approved the declaration and voted to change a city ordinance that called the day Great Americans Day instead of aligning with the federal holiday honoring King. (Photo source: WLOX)
Sugar Stallings with the Call to Action media group held a news conference Sunday afternoon to talk about the fallout from a Friday social media post by the City of Biloxi. (Photo source: WLOX)
Sugar Stallings with the Call to Action media group held a news conference Sunday afternoon to talk about the fallout from a Friday social media post by the City of Biloxi. (Photo source: WLOX)

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Monday, the Biloxi City Council will vote on changing the city ordinance on Great Americans Day to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The name controversy has attracted national attention.

But a simple name change may not be enough to satisfy everyone. One community activist is calling on the city of Biloxi to put more people of color in leadership positions, in an effort to better represent the population.

Sugar Stallings with the Call to Action media group held a news conference Sunday afternoon to talk about the fallout from a Friday social media post by the City of Biloxi.

The Facebook post and tweet simply said offices would be closed on the third Monday of the month. But not for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day - for Great Americans Day, a designation since 1985.

After thousands of shares and retweets caused the story to go national, several city officials, including Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich promised to change the holiday's official designation to match the name of the federal holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The city council will meet Monday at 10 a.m. to reconsider the designation; just one hour before the city's annual MLK Day parade.

Community activist Sugar Stallings said the "Great Americans Day" designation just highlights the need for more minority voices in city government.

"Leadership has to reflect your population," Stallings said. "I feel there is a lack of leadership in minority representation here in the city. There is no directors, no soundboard for leadership to ask, 'Is this offensive?' That's important when you're making decisions in a city that has a large population of minority people."

Stallings urged residents who feel the same way to contact their councilmembers and the mayor with their opinions. She also plans to be at the special city council meeting Monday.

Gordon Jackson, executive board member of the Biloxi NAACP, agreed in principal with the call by Sugar Stallings for more diversity in the city's leadership. He added that while her statement was separate than that of the Biloxi NAACP, he said it didn't indicate a split in the African American community on how to respond to the Great Americans Day controversy.

"I don't see it [the separate press conference by Sugar Stallings] as a division. The African American community is not a monolithic community. There are diverse viewpoints ... within the community and all of them are to be respected. I think that statement can be respected and let it stand on its own. And then the statements that we [the Biloxi NAACP] make will also stand on our own," Jackson told WLOX News Now.

"As a member of the NAACP, I don't think that's the end all, be all - like we should just rely on them to make every stance for people of color," Stallings told WLOX News Now following her news conference. "As a private citizen I wanted to make a stance to say I'm a part of the city, I'm a resident, I'm a taxpayer, but I also want to be respected. I want the federal holiday to be appreciated."

Jackson said his organization credits the city's effort to correct the problem, but also wants a longer look at the issue

"We're looking too at the inside of this matter as to how and why this ordinance remained in the books like it did for the past 30 years," Jackson said.

"People are going to have their opinions - a lot of people have expressed their opinions about this. And Ms. Stallings, she has her right. She's a citizen. She has a right to make statements as she sees fit," Jackson said.

You can watch Sugar Stallings' full news conference here:

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