MLK COMMITTEE LEADERS ARE ADVOCATES FOR HILTON HEAD AND BLUFFTON
Galen Miller, president of the Hilton Head MLK Committee for Justice, is a 50-year-old native islander. He is IT director at The Cypress and runs his own IT firm. He has a networking and telecommunications degree from Wake Tech in Raleigh, N.C. Miller lives in Bluffton with his wife, a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son.
Bridgette Frazier, president of the Bluffton MLK Observance Committee, was born and raised in Bluffton. She has been an educator for 15 years. A Bluffton Town Council member, Frazier, 37, owns “Deliciously Couture,” a catering company, and a food truck, “Chef B’s Eatz.” Daughter of the late Oscar Frazier, known for his political, business and community activities, she is married with three grown stepchildren.
Monthly recently spoke with Miller and Frazier about growing up in their respective communities, issues facing those communities and the directions of the groups they head. The interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Miller: I’m the oldest of 22 grandkids to Belle and Clifford Miller, who raised me. They taught me how to work hard and be accountable. My grandfather was a longshoreman and my grandmother was a housekeeper. They were big-time farmers, so I learned to farm as a little boy.
Frazier: Cooking is my passion. My father’s mom, Daisy Pinckney, would make me stay inside when the boys went out to play and I would learn stuff. She was a true, original Gullah cook and I appreciated that because I learned every recipe from chicken feet and red rice to gumbo and bread pudding. My dad loved cooking and when he got his Bar-B-Que Caboose, that was really inspiring for me.
Miller: I graduated from Hilton Head High School in the class of ’89. My wife and I left Hilton Head in 1997. We came back in 2002. My grandmother took ill, so it was time to come home to spend more time with her.
Frazier: I have always been involved in politics and activism. In high school, I coordinated and organized different protests. I went to South Carolina State University where I was president of the Young Democrats. During my entire tenure, we participated in protests to remove the confederate flag from the state capital.
When I graduated, I went to West Palm Beach, Fla., where I taught high school English for eight years. I wanted to come home and become a part of my community. I volunteered with the Bluffton MLK because my stepmother had a long involvement with the group.
Miller: I would say the top issues (on the island) are housing, infrastructure, hunger and the racial achievement gap in our schools. There’s not enough affordable housing on the island. Many people who work in this community can’t afford to live here, and it’s not unusual for people to travel over 50 miles each way to get to work.
Frazier: The issues affecting Bluffton residents are gentrification, lack of access to economic power and the vanishing Gullah community. A lot of streets, particularly in old town areas that were predominately Black, have been sold by former Bluffton residents who have a disconnect from the area. It is not just the structural changes that gentrification brings. It is that sense of community. You don’t know who lives next to you and that person doesn’t seem interested in learning anything about you.
Miller: Heirs’ property is another issue. Many native islanders don’t have straightforward titles and wills for the property that their families have lived on communally for generations. This leads to loss of property and trouble getting loans or federal assistance after hurricanes. Families are being forced to move. They can’t accumulate or pass down wealth, and our Gullah-Geechee culture is being negatively affected.
Frazier: I ran for council to continue a bridge between local government and the native-Gullah community.
Miller: The racial achievement gap is of concern as well, not to mention the need to increase cultural awareness and diversity within school faculty and among other leaders who will influence the future of this community.
THE NEXT STEPS
Miller: After the June Rally for Justice and Change, the MLK Jr. Celebration Planning Committee decided to focus on civic action, education, and community events and service. We’ve changed our name to “Hilton Head MLK Committee for Justice” in recognition of the hard work that’s still necessary to combat racial injustice.
Things like voting and education reform have been an aspect of our work all along.
Our committee is taking a more active stance – organizing more formally; syncing up with other organizations to see how we can combine efforts; identifying tactics to bring true change and adding new members.
Things can only be addressed if we talk about them.
Frazier: Our MLK committee has changed over the last two or three years. I am proud that we are not just a once-a-year committee because our issues are greater than that.
We host a Black State of the Union where we talk about issues in the community, such as real estate; police reform; education; and health and wellness. We established the Juneteenth celebration, here. We do the Black Excellence Ball. Since COVID-19, we created a Gullah market to give economic empowerment to black businesses.
We have a four-point agenda for 2020-21: Advocating for black economic empowerment among the native-Gullah community in Bluffton; passage of a South Carolina hate bill; closing the black student achievement gap; getting native-Gullah students added to the district’s ESOL program; and housing for low-income residents.
It’s through things like that where we keep people engaged.