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Racial justice advocate looks ahead in wake of City's mishandling of BBQ for Equality event

By Mike Pettinella

Reflecting upon his recent less-than-positive interaction with City officials over a BBQ for Equality event that didn’t happen, Batavia native Macy Paradise III asserts that the line of communication between the local government and racial justice advocates is still open.

“Since then, I’ve been learning a ton about City Council and the inner workings of it,” said Paradise (photo at right), who met with City management and law enforcement on June 1 in an attempt to set up the barbecue at Williams Park on June 7. “Local politics have always been of interest to me, and I’ve been an advocate for peace since the Iraq War.”

Paradise, speaking by telephone on Wednesday, said things have been smoothed over now, but he is disappointed that City leaders backed off on assurances that they would support the barbecue, which was to take place in lieu of a proposed March for Justice protest in Downtown Batavia.

As it turned out, the protest did take place on that first Sunday of this month and it proved to be peaceful.

According to Paradise, the BBQ for Equality evolved from the City taking a stance against a march or protest. He said that he and co-organizer, Chelsea Bianchi, of Le Roy, met with City Manager Martin Moore, Assistant Manager Rachael Tabelski, Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and Assistant Chief Chris Camp.

“When we originally sat down, they said that they were completely against any protest whatsoever and asked if we had any other things as alternatives to make it a little more peaceful,” said Paradise, 35, an employee of WNY Developmental Disabilities State Operations and Offices. “We had come up with the idea of doing the barbecue. As soon as it was mentioned, Heubusch started to agree to it, thinking that was probably the best way. He suggested doing it at Williams Park.”

Paradise said that Moore was asked if state regulations concerning COVID-19 would allow for such a gathering, and responded that it was just a suggestion from the governor, not necessarily a regulation, and that “we could get past the COVID aspect.”

“Then we asked them what we would be able to do about the food and electric situation at the park,” Paradise said. “Heubusch and Moore talked about the idea of including City Church and Heubusch pretty much said that he was almost 100-percent sure that City Church would help with the food aspect of it. Moore said that he would be able to turn the electricity on, but would not be able to open the restrooms due to the COVID aspect.”

Tabelski then offered to post promotional material on the City’s website, he said.

“She asked me to make a flier right away, which I did, and I sent that to her,” he noted. “I have email correspondence stating that it’s all a go, and we’re moving forward.”

The next day, a letter from Heubusch directed to City business owners went out, which, to Paradise, “was kind of almost a warning to the Batavia businesses that we were having this event.”

Paradise said plans for the barbecue went south after City Council President Eugene Jankowski apparently had received reports about the meeting.

“Jankowski said something to us after we had started promoting the flier,” Paradise said. “He had mentioned in a comment – at this point, I had no clue who he was – that it needed to be agreed upon by City Council, and that there is no City-sanctioned event.”

Paradise acknowledged that he wasn’t aware of the City’s application process (and wasn’t advised of one).

“If I would have known, I probably would have asked for more assurances on paper. I just assumed that because the City police chief and manager are saying ‘yes’, that it was a definite. Obviously, I was in over my head,” he said.

Paradise said he called Heubusch prior to a scheduled meeting on Wednesday afternoon, and got the news that the City was unable to proceed as planned “due to the issues with City Council and getting the proper permission.”

He also said the police chief urged him to cancel the protest.

“At this time, I was in correspondence with Greg Munroe, Ray Williams and Vic Thomas (members of the March for Justice team that organized the protest),” Paradise said. “They had decided that the barbecue wasn’t really their thing and wanted to move forward with the protest. I told Heubusch that I was going to follow their lead now and I would no longer push the barbecue issue.”

Jankowski, acting as a Batavia resident and not speaking on behalf of the City, issued a public apology on Wednesday:

“I would like to personally apologize to the BBQ for Equality organizers, Macy Paradise and Chelsea Bianchi, for any misunderstanding I may have caused involving the cancellation of their event. I’m confident we can continue to move forward in a positive direction.

Previously, Jankowski said he was sorry on a Facebook post, which read, in part:

“The city manager made all the promises Macy said he did even though he wasn’t authorized to do so. I was given misinformation and I believed it. I apologize and I am working to make it right with Greg (Munroe), Macy and Chelsea.”

Moore, contacted by phone on June 10, said he did not wish to comment about any possible miscommunication.

Paradise said he “appreciates the apology.”

“I am actually friends now with Jankowski on Facebook and we’ve had a couple conversations privately since that time,” he said. “We have handled it exactly how you would expect it to be handled – very maturely. We’re good. I would say that moving forward, we’re definitely able to work together.”

Paradise said that he was confident that the March for Justice protest, which drew several hundred people, would remain peaceful and safe.

“If there wasn’t so much City resistance, I would have moved forward with (promoting the protest),” he said. “I have way too many friends, locally, that are business owners and I wasn’t willing to put anything in danger when it comes to the City, our community.”

He said his "Embrace Racial Equality" group on Facebook has grown to more than 2,000 local members in the two weeks that it has been posted.

“It’s really just a news resource where people can come and asked questions, get educated on the movement, receive some background knowledge, and ask questions of City Council and other officials,” he said.

Paradise also said he hopes to revive discussions to hold a BBQ for Equality.

“The BBQ for Equality is just postponed, really. It’s not necessarily cancelled,” he said. “We’re planning to do that in the fall with live entertainment. Hopefully, we can work with the City to see about getting the application.”

This weekend, the March for Justice group is conducting a June Teenth Freedom Day, a register-to-vote celebration, set for 3 to 8 p.m. Friday and noon to 7 p.m. Saturday on the parking lot of the YWCA of Genesee County at 301 North St., Batavia.

The event will feature food, beverages and live entertainment. On Friday, Paradise will provide the music in his role as DJ Macy Paradise and will be accompanied by his girlfriend, Nicole "Nici" Johnson of WBTA Radio.

YWCA Executive Director Millie Tomidy-Pepper said she’s on board with it, but did advise that social distancing guidelines will be enforced and that participants are required to wear masks.

“We wholeheartedly are supportive of the group, its mission and the event,” she said. “As you know, the YWCA stands for peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

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