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Community gathers to peacefully honor George Floyd

Over the weekend, a mixture of those who knew George Floyd personally and those who felt anger after watching the now viral video of his death gathered to honor his memory and to demand justice.

Despite being from Houston and losing his life in Minneapolis on May 25th, Floyd’s death was taken personally by many Highlands County residents. Between 1993 and 1995, Floyd attended South Florida State College, then just a community college, and played basketball with the Panthers. It was then that Floyd left a positive impact on Highlands County through his relationships with the locals and his classmates.

On Friday, Avon Park residents gathered at the Avon Park Community Center off of East Main Street to hold a march in his honor. Those attending were encouraged to wear black, white, and orange colors and to make signs in his honor. It was promoted as a strictly peaceful march in order to best honor his memory.

The march took place promptly at 5 p.m., with the march beginning down East Main Street. Protesters chanted the number five, his jersey number while playing basketball, and chanted what are reported to be his last words before losing his life. The marchers also paid their respects to Floyd at the Jacaranda Hotel, where he stayed while attending college. Reverend George Miller labeled the hotel as “sacred” and called for a moment of silence with the crowd.

Upon return to the Community Center, many in attendance and those who organized the event shared words of unity and peace to the crowd. Those who organized the event hoped to set an example of a peaceful protest and to spread the idea that love beats hate. Among those in attendance was Valencia Narain, a former cheerleader at South Florida State College who knew Floyd personally.

“He was a great guy, great student. We took classes together, I also was a cheerleader for the team, so a lot of time I got to see him during the game and after the game.” Narain said about Floyd. When asked what she would want Floyd to be remembered by, she stated, “Just his greatness and his want to become someone. He was always talking about basketball and his love of basketball, and he did get to play and we enjoyed him playing.”

Avon Park was not the only city to hold a gathering in memory of Floyd as the Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Sebring held a peaceful protest Saturday morning. Instead of wearing Panther colors, attendees were asked to wear blue as a sign of hope.

The congregation and Miller take pride in their progressive stances to promote social change.

After words of welcome by Miller, attendees moved to the front of the building to stand along the walkway. In an act of solidarity, those in attendance tilted their head back and showed their neck for five minutes. With each passing minute, the crowd chanted George Floyd’s name and his last words before losing his life. A few even went far enough to lay on the ground to simulate the position Floyd was kept in. After the five minutes, Miller and fellow clergy members preached to the crowd. Several of those in attendance were overcome with emotion as they preached about the significance of their protests and the relation to Bible scripture. The gathering finished with a moment of silence and a closing prayer.

“What we really wanted to do was for people to come together as a sign of solidarity with the brothers and sisters in Minneapolis where George Floyd lived,” Miller said about his intentions with the protest. “Now I think this has moved into an era of it is time for people who are not black or brown to actually be quiet and listen to the voices of our black and brown brothers and sisters.”

Sebring and Avon Park join a list of growing cities protesting the unarmed man’s death. Cities such as Washington, Atlanta, Boston, and Las Vegas joined Minneapolis by protesting. As of Saturday morning, Derek Chauvin was the only police officer involved to be charged. He was charged with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder. However, protesters demand that all officers that played a role in Floyd’s death be charged and arrested. Until then, protesters vow to continue until everyone is held accountable.

Children's Museum having limited reopening

SEBRING — It will be a Phase I limited reopening Monday for The Children’s Museum of the Highlands, which will remain closed to the public, except for private birthday parties, museum rentals and the Discovery Day Camps.

But, during the pandemic closure, there has been activity at the museum with the addition of a Sensory Area exhibit and an AdventHealth Chlldren’s Hospital exhibit currently being built.

Children’s Museum of the Highlands Executive Director Kelly Dressel said after being closed for 12 weeks she is really excited about reopening.

The new Sensory Area features soft blocks for young children to build and play with along with wall panels with different textures.

“Our hope is that it will help with toddlers,” Dressel said. “We are hoping to add to the space and make it more friendly to some of our special needs children so they can get on the floor and crawl around in a safe space.”

The AdventHealth exhibit will be like a little hospital with lab coats so the children can dress up like nurses and doctors, Dressel said. There will be some discovery pieces that children can touch such as representations of a pound of fat and a pound of muscle.

“We have changed around some of our exhibits; the fire truck has been moved,” she said. “When the families come in they will be able to see all the new stuff; it will look brand new to them because it has changed a little bit.”

They are hoping to open the museum to the public around June 30, Dressel said.

“We miss our kids,” she said.

The museum is implementing a slow, safe, action plan for its reopening with a number of safety measures in place such as requiring temperature checks of staff members at the start of their work day and requiring frequent hand washing/disinfecting throughout the day.

Guests are encouraged to practice frequent and good hand washing procedures along with hand sanitizer applications.

Masks will not be required, according to the reopening plan.

The museum exhibits, work areas, classroom and spaces will be cleaned every day by museum staff, with surfaces and frequently handled pieces cleaned often throughout the operating day.

Each exhibit has been reviewed and modified to reduce the potential risk of spreading COVID-19. Some exhibit pieces have been removed from the museum floor at this time while others have to be tagged for more frequent cleaning.

Discovery Camps are the museum’s summer day camp for children to learn, explore and discover within the walls of the museum with a different theme each week.

STEAM Team Discovery Camp starts Monday, June 1, featuring challenges throughout the week focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.

Agricultural Explorers, the week of June 8, covers the field of agriculture with a focus on the citrus and dairy industries and gardening.

Week three starting June 15 is about the Five Senses — offering messy fun with the senses of touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste.

Week four starting June 22 is Holiday Mash Ups! Celebrating holidays all in one week.

Discovery Camp, for children ages 6 to 10, features a small group setting of a maximum of 30 kids total for camp, with snack and lunch provided, before/after camp care provided, program materials and projects provided.

Call 863-451-5385 for details.

The Children’s Museum of the Highlands, 219 N. Ridgewood Drive, Sebring.

Highlands County virus count up to 127

SEBRING — With seven new cases on Friday, the largest one day increase in more than a month, Highlands County’s total of COVID-19 cases is now 127.

There was a ninth death in Highlands from the virus reported in the Friday update from the Florida Department of Health. Of the nine deaths, seven have been men. The ages for the men range from 59 to 83, while the women were 62 and 78.

The demographics for the 125 Highlands resident cases show 60 male and 65 female cases within an age range of 0 to 85 with a median age of 54. Six of the new seven cases are female, including a pair of 6 year olds, an 8 year old and a 15 year old. The other two females are ages 37 and 48. The lone male new case is 54 years old.

Four zip codes have the majority of the cases in Highlands — the Sebring zip code of 33870 has 49 cases, the Avon Park zip code of 33825 has 33 case, the Lake Placid zip code of 33852 has 15 cases and the Sebring zip code of 33875 has 7 cases.

Statewide there have been 55,424 cases with 10,113 hospitalizations and 2,447 deaths.

Hendry County with 405 cases, and Clewiston with 331 cases, have very large numbers of cases for their populations with large daily increases including 61 new cases in Hendry on May 24 and 27 new cases on Friday.

There have been eight resident deaths at a Clewiston nursing home and five resident deaths at a Labelle nursing home. Overall there have been 14 COVID-19 deaths in Hendry County.

Test data shows there have been 4,256 tested in Highlands County with 3% positive for COVID-19.

In Hendry County 2,399 have been test with 16.9% positive, which is well above the target range of less than 10% of those tested having positive results showing they have the virus.

Statewide 995,886 have been tested with 5.6% being positive.

Florida has tested 123,552 people for antibodies and there have been 5,474 positive tests, for a positive percentage of 4.43%. Highlands County has fared a little better, with 14 of 172 tests showing the antibodies, which is an 8.14% positive rate.

Nationwide there have been 1,756,170 cases with 103,153 deaths.

Worldwide there have been 5,988,416 cases with 366,654 deaths.

Five things

1. At some point, London’s superstar clock tower acquired the nickname “Big Ben” —a name originally given not to the tower itself or even its clock, but to the largest of the clock’s five bells. Also known as the Great Bell, Big Ben stands more than 7 feet tall, measures 9 feet in diameter, and weighs nearly 14 tons.

2. The original “Ben” who lent his name to the bell is a bit of mystery. The prime candidate for the handle’s inspiration is Sir Benjamin Hall, a 19th century engineer and politician who was also a famously large man.

3. Royal Astronomer Sir George Biddell Airy came up with the specifications that the clock had to have, and lawyer, politician, and railway promoter Sir Edmund Beckett Denison designed the movement.

4. Airy hired clockmaker Edward John Dent to bring Beckett Denison’s design into reality in 1852, but Dent passed away just one year later before he could finish the job. The project passed to Dent’s stepson, Frederick Rippon Dent.

5. Individuals who are lucky enough to be able to see Big Ben up close face a bit of a climb: There’s no elevator, so the only route to the belfry level is a 334-step spiral stairway.