The ''Orlando Ride'' has begun. But will the city's blacks, representing 13 percent of the population, be on the ride or off it?
Black leaders in Orlando interviewed by the Monitor say they feel blacks will be a part of the city's economic development.
Orlando has ensured this through an aggressive affirmative-action program at the airport and at various construction sites, including Disney World. Blacks have also been included in almost all planning and political processes.
The Orlando City Council has two blacks, as well as two women, councilman ''Nap'' Ford points out. He also says Mayor Bill Frederick is ''sensitive to the needs of the black community.''
Charles Hawkins, president of the Washington Shores Federal Savings & Loan, the only black-owned bank in the state, says Orlando has been unique in its race relations. ''It was the first place in the country that allowed blacks to join the Rotary Club,'' he says.
Orlando's swing toward racial equality came during the Freedom Rider days, says Bill Jennings, an airport administrator. ''The whites got together and said a little integration isn't going to hurt.'' Billboards - the local method of self-expression - were erected that proclaimed, ''Black and White Together.''
The city, moreover, made sure blacks were going to make it when it built the modern airport. Eleven percent of the business was contracted out to minority contractors. And of the 26 concessions at the airport, Mr. Jennings points out, 10 are minority owned and operated.
At EPCOT, the Walt Disney ''community of tomorrow,'' minority contractors are thriving as 10 percent of its construction is allocated to minority businesses.
With the growth of a black middle class, a group of black entrepreneurs has developed, Alzo Reddick, an assistant professor at Rollins College, points out.
One such businessman is erecting a shopping mall in the black neighborhood. Still others have talked to McDonald's, Burger King, and Coca-Cola about franchises. Messrs. Reddick, Hawkins, and Jennings all live in black middle-class neighborhoods.
''You don't see ghettos like you do in other cities,'' says Jennings, noting that many of Orlando's blacks are homeowners.
Not all blacks are happy, however. Dr. Tommy Dorsey, a dentist who also owns ''The Connoisseur,'' a barbecue restaurant, complains that black businessmen can't get working capital at interest rates they can afford. He thinks Orlando presents ''an illusion of opportunity, since if you don't have the money, you can't take advantage of it.''
Councilman Ford agrees that the shortage of capital is one of the biggest problem for Orlando's blacks. ''They need to be able to succeed or fail on their own,'' he says.
Mr. Hawkins would like to expand his banking business to Eatonville, a black community outside Winter Park. Eventually, he says, Washington Shores will be there. In the meantime, he says, ''If you can't make it in Orlando, it's not the white man's fault.