By Gabber staff; photos by Chip Weiner
For the Gabber’s cover shot this week, an homage to Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want,” we gathered a group of Gulfportians who truly exemplify what it means to be a part of the community. From councilmembers and police officers, to teachers, activists and business owners, Gecko Queens and Mullet Kings, our community is diverse in passion and purpose. In the spirit of the holiday – and this issue – our tablemembers take turns telling us what they’re grateful for this year.
We asked Brian Liggins – former Gecko Queen, our publisher’s neighbor, and perhaps the bubbliest activist we’ve ever met – to appear on our cover because he embodies the way we hope to see all activists: pursuing what matters not with hate and violence, but with love and peace.
Brain says, “I am grateful for everyone who came together this year for equal rights for everyone. From Black Lives Matter, to transgender, to Native Americans, to anyone who has been done wrong. Everyone from young, old, moms teaching their kids, dads teaching their kids. All of us getting together, all different colors and showing the world that enough is enough. We all want to live happy lives. All we want is peace and love in this world and this year it’s really been shown.”
In a year rife with cries to defund police and protests demanding social justice, Gulfport Police Officer Rob Burkhart stands as tribute to police officers who protect and serve all in their community equally. Rob epitomizes Norman Rockwell’s iconic police officer, especially in this new era of holding officers accountable to the standards of who we want to be, not who we are.
Rob says, “I’m thankful for all the blessings and peace that I do have in my life. I’m thankful for the community and the ability for us all to come together today and celebrate our diversity.”
Phillip Bailey is Brian Liggins’ partner of 15 years. You may have noticed we chose to focus this week not on the holiday Thanksgiving, but on gratitude. For native Americans like Phillip – he’s Odawa, part of the Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in Northern Michigan – America’s colonial origin story represents not thanks, but grief. He doesn’t focus on that, however, but on this community, and the people who make him glad to be part of it.
Phillip says, “This year I’m grateful for quite a few things. But, most of all, I am grateful for my family, my friends, the people that I love that support me. And, I am grateful for my health this year. Taking a new path, a new road, and I’m looking forward to a healthy future with all the people that I love.”
The Man. The Mullet King. The legend. You’ve likely walked on a pier named for his kin, but that’s not why CW’s on our cover. Men like Charlie fed their families on what the water could provide, and if, as we dredged and filled and cleared and built, mullet fishing proved difficult, well, these men pivoted and kept on keepin’ on. No one knows better than Charlie that saltwater never lets you down. The Gulfport Historical Society crowned him Gulfport’s first-ever Mullet King seven years ago, and no one deserved the honor more.
Charlie says, “I’m grateful for my family’s health this year.”
Father Bill Yanson
Our community has no shortage of faiths, or of places of worship and people who fill them. Father Bill offers an ecumenical take: You don’t need a church to find God. What’s more, he goes beyond “only God can judge” and espouses acceptance and love over doctrine and judgment. While he’s worked with the synodal catholic community, he finds most of his calling outside a church, including offering free lunches for anyone who needs them every Saturday morning.
Fr. Bill says, “As someone who works and spends a lot of time in Gulfport, I am particularly grateful for the harmony that Gulfportians have gone through the last nine months with. It’s one thing in a pandemic, it’s another thing it being an election year, and it’s another thing to have a contested election year in a pandemic. I am sad for those who have perished and will perish due to the pandemic. But as I said, here in Gulfport, I am really grateful for the harmony with which the whole community has seemed to have pulled together, not only for this community, but for other communities that have had trouble.”
The youngest member at our table, Emily Burns, inherits a legacy of strong women. Her great-grandma, Elsie Haveness, owned and ran the Gabber when founder George Brann sold it in 1979, and she ran it with her husband Ted until 1992. Those close to the family tell us Elsie did the heavy lifting, and we can see some of that spirit in her great-granddaughter. Her mom’s raising Emily to be a strong, independent woman, although we’re not sure she needs much help.
If Gulfport had a Cajun Navy, John would be an admiral. Granted, we’ve never seen him use a jon boat to pull a stranded child off a flooded roof, but we have seen him close his restaurant, Smokin J’s BBQ, so he could drive a rented truck filled with water and post-hurricane supplies to the panhandle. Also, if we ever did have a Cat 5 hit, John’s the one we vote “Most Likely to Take a Jon Boat And Save Stranded Kids.”
John says, “I’m grateful for being in a community that’s so supportive of our business and having my family with me as well.”
As the head of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber of Commerce, Barbara’s the face of all their decisions. That’s not always easy, but she stays with this wholly volunteer role because she believes in the power of the small business and she believes in Gulfport. For those of us who remember a time when small businesses across Gulfport struggled to keep their doors open, her leadership and ability to negotiate across different groups allow our economy to reach new heights.
Barbara says, “I am grateful for my health, the health of my wife, Morgan, and our family during these times. I am grateful for all the people that I have in my life and all the love that surrounds me.”
Gulfport Councilmember Christine Brown brings tradition to our table. She embodies old-school Gulfport – her husband descended from some of the area’s first European settlers – and no one can dispute her commitment to the city: before Gulfport paid its firefighters, she trained as a firefighter and answered the fire bell when it rang; she served on countless boards, including the Gulfport Historical Society for several decades, and no one loves math more than this Boca Ciega High math teacher who just happens to celebrate her birthday on March 14.
Christine says, “I am so grateful to the wonderful neighbors and residents and friends and all the people of the City of Gulfport for how beautifully they have made it through every single, solitary, horrible thing that has happened in 2020. They are together, they are gracious, they are welcoming, they are loving and giving and we take care of each other in Gulfport. That’s the great part about Gulfport.”
Marissa is a social worker at Gulfport Elementary and president of Gulfport Kiwanis (she also helped get the club chartered), whose mission is to improve the world “one child at a time.” Her unyielding commitment to children proves her strength. It takes a strong human to fight the wrongs facing so many children in our community, and anyone who can handle the heartbreak she sees daily has a spine of steel and a special kind of magic indeed.
Marissa says, “I am grateful that I and my family made it through 2020 financially, spiritually, physically and emotionally.”