Human Relations Diversity Board seeks to make positive changes in Ocoee

Members of the board say their work has made a serious difference in the community

The Human Relations Diversity Board in Ocoee was first established in 2003 (Nichole Dawkins)

OCOEE, Fla. – Here on News 6, we’ve reported on things the city of Ocoee has done since The Ocoee Massacre in 1920, but we have never touched on the Human Relations Diversity Board behind some of the changes.

The board was first established in 2003, with the first meeting happening in 2004. They meet the first Thursday of every month.

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Nichole Dawkins joined the board about 10 years ago and in the past served as a chairman.

Nichole Dawkins has been on the Human Relations Diversity Board (HRDB) in Ocoee for 10 years (Nichole Dawkins)

She said the Human Relations Diversity Board (HRDB) has been instrumental in the race relation changes the city has seen.

“I had no idea that I was joining a group of inspiring ‘out of the box’ thinkers, dreamers and advocators that has made a critical difference in the Ocoee of today,” Dawkins said.

She said in April 2018, members joined Mayor Rusty Johnson on a trip to Montgomery, Alabama.

During their visit, they did some research and got a chance to visit the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

When they came back to Central Florida, they started working on a plan to organize a city wide 100-year Remembrance of the Ocoee Voting Day Massacre.

They made that happen in 2020, and out of that, the board also developed the proclamation that acknowledges the tragedy.

“This was an important step for the HRDB, because we as citizens of Ocoee had the opportunity to talk about the issue, as a city offering heartfelt condolences to the many fellow citizens who lost their lives and property and set our eyes towards a brighter future,” Dawkins said.

The governor later signed a bill from Senator Randolph Bracy into law, requiring the historic event to be taught in schools. Last year, another law was also passed that offers a college scholarship to descendants of victims of the massacre of Black students residing in Ocoee.

Tonya Dorisca just joined the board in early January. She said she’s been interested in the history of the city for a while, and is excited to make a difference.

Tonya Dorisca joined the Human Relations Diversity Board in Ocoee in early January (Tonya Dorisca)

“Although, historically Ocoee has had tragic events occur, and was deemed to be a “Sundown Town” in prior years, I felt it was important to be a part of the new message that Ocoee delivers to all of its citizens, in that everyone is equally a member of this community and all are welcome,” Dorisca said.

She said she wanted to join the board to provide her experience as a resident and show those outside of the community what Ocoee has to offer.

As for the future of the board, members tell us they’ll continue working on the next Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade, making their Black History Month Essay Contest bigger and better, and highlighting the remembrance and education of the massacre.

They also hope to add new programs celebrating the Hispanic community, as well as other cultures.

About the Author:

Brooke is a news producer and has been with News 6 since January 2018. She grew up in Coral Springs and graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism. Before she came back to Central Florida, she worked in Fort Myers.