RIVIERA BEACH — Mayor Thomas A. Masters has made many trips to the White House but on his most recent trip a couple of weeks ago, one thing was different to him: This was the home of an activist president.
Thomas and four other Palm Beach County residents were invited to the White House Community Leaders Briefing Series, involving day-long briefing sessions on issues ranging from small business development to the intricacies of the national health care act.
The series was held each Friday in July, with the Obama administration inviting some 150 diverse community and religious leaders, activists and organizers to Washington as a way to foster dialogue between the nation’s leaders and those in cities and towns across the country.
Masters said afterwards that public engagement is more than a notion to Obama.
“The level of activism this president has brought to the White House is astonishing to me,” the mayor said. “For him to bring 150 people from the grassroots to Washington every week to listen to our ideas, to include us in the process in such a direct, fundamental way… I had no idea how far-reaching and extensive his outreach is.”
Administration officials urged the group to upload their projects and ideas to www.whitehouse.gov, where there are already dozens of initiatives listed, some from the White House, others from rural and urban communities alike, Masters said.
One White House-sponsored initiative is coming to Riviera Beach. Thomas plans to recruit local college-aged young people to participate in a three-month Presidential internship program where “they can learn first-hand about government,” he said.
Masters also plans to invite to Riviera Beach Jerry Flavin, assistant administrator of the Small Business Association’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Participation, for a workshop on ways non-profits and religious groups can start and expand businesses. It is scheduled for September.
Accompanying the mayor to the nation’s capital were Beverly Morrison, board member of the Urban League of Palm Beach County; Michael Sloser, president of the Condominium Officers Association of Singer Island; Bridget Wilburn, social worker with Families First of Palm Beach County and an anti-AIDS activist; and Pastor Haywood N. Williams of the Original Tabernacle of Prayer for All People, located in Riviera Beach.
Thomas said he tapped them for the delegation because of their active community involvement. Each attended separate briefings.
The larger point for the trip, though, according to Masters, was really quite simple.
“I wanted to get directly connected to [Obama’s] programs and policies, especially as they relate to urban America, and to bring some of those initiatives to the city of Riviera Beach,” he said. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Photo: Mayor Thomas Masters