For a half-century, Oviedo Citizens in Action has been the community’s touchstone for equality, opportunity, and engagement.
The 1960s in America was not for the faint of heart. It was a tumultuous time marred by civil unrest, race riots, and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the country’s resolve was put to the test. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson as the push to end discrimination began. But the road toward equality would be long and hard.
In 1969, as black leaders across the country banded together to fight for their inalienable rights, the Oviedo Citizens in Action (OCIA) was incorporated right here in our community to bring about local change. Today, 50 years later, OCIA continues to be a beacon of community service, social progress, and equal opportunity for everyone who calls Oviedo-Winter Springs home.
In April, the organization recognized that work and its humble beginnings at a 50 Years of Service celebration as 150 people converged on the Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center. Graced with prayer and gratitude, the event portrayed a festive atmosphere, featuring guest speaker Herbert Washington and a moving video from John Moore, age 83, and his wife Ophelia, 88, founding members of OCIA.
“OCIA represented a concerned group in Oviedo whose voices were not being heard,” says Danny McKinney, past president of the organization and chair of the 50 Years of Service celebration. Danny, a United States Air Force veteran, has been part of OCIA since 2002. “OCIA formed when the city was not so open-minded.”
Kathy Hunt, the current OCIA president, was the first black student in South Charleston, West Virginia, to integrate her school in the early 1960s. She says it’s important that OCIA members share and tell their stories for all generations.
“The 50th anniversary was not only to celebrate our humble beginnings, but to share a history with people in the community,” Kathy explains. “We are not looking back. We are moving forward, but we all need to know the history to do so.”
OCIA founders helped desegregate a number of local businesses, including a barbershop, through nonviolent protests. They also sought to have their causes addressed by local government, especially equal housing and voting rights.
“Back then, there was some disparity, but OCIA helped bridge the gap,” says Kathy, who has been at the helm of OCIA for the past three years. “There were changes going on across the country. After Dr. King was assassinated, there was still segregation, but things were changing. We saw those things changing, and we became more diverse for all citizens.”
Modern Day OCIA
Although OCIA is predominantly a black organization, today the group includes members of all races in an effort to serve anyone or anything that needs to be addressed at the local level.
“The focus now is being the voice to the underserved in Seminole County, especially the youth and the elders,” says Kathy.
She says OCIA monitors the work being done by the Oviedo City Council, reviewing agendas for issues that may require interaction.
“There are so many things to address,” Kathy says. “For example, we need affordable housing. Rent is becoming so expensive, it is forcing the underserved out of Oviedo.”
Kathy is concerned about ongoing plans to tear down and replace low-income housing, afraid those displaced will not be able to afford the new apartments and homes.
“I think we have a good voice in the city,” adds Danny. “We have some support from local and county government, but we need to keep abreast of what our leaders are doing. We need to ask, ‘Are you truly taking care of the citizens?’”
But it’s not all watchdog advocacy. OCIA also puts on valuable programs for the community including its signature event to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day each January. The event is highlighted by a parade and a Family Fun Day at Round Lake Park. In addition, OCIA’s popular YES (Youth Exposure Saves) initiative for young people engages 15 to 20 middle and high schoolers, keeping them abreast of what is going on in the community, whether it’s a UCF game or the work of the Oviedo Youth Advisory Council.
Regular OCIA meetings are held every second Monday of the month in the community center at Round Lake Park. A monument honoring the work of Dr. King, erected in 2014 in partnership with the City of Oviedo and OCIA, stands proudly just outside the doors of the center.
Danny says OCIA is continuously recruiting new members, and he is pleased younger residents are showing an interest. The organization conducts outreach in schools, too, reminding students that participation can satisfy community service hour requirements – and it looks good on their résumés.
“We don’t care about the color or background of a new recruit,” notes Danny, who served as OCIA’s president for 10 years. “We have grown over the past 50 years to become a more diverse organization, and we are hoping for even more diversity.”
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