A little more than a year after Muskogee voters made history and elected the city's first Black mayor — and 16 months after the novel coronavirus began spreading across the area— Mayor Marlon Coleman said it's time to celebrate and move forward.
"I'll pause right now for you to celebrate yourself being the greatest city in God's planet," Coleman said Tuesday during a State of the City Address.
Coleman delivered his message at Hunts Greenspace, former site of the long-vacant Hunts Department Store, as an example of Muskogee's progress and potential.
"Not only is it an example of what the future holds, it is in the middle of downtown Muskogee," he said. "We treasure what we have in downtown Muskogee. We want Muskogee to become a place where we can live, work and play, and that starts with downtown Muskogee."
He said downtown Muskogee can be better than Broken Arrow's Rose District or Tulsa's Blue Dome District.
"What sets us apart from those communities is that the people in Muskogee are strong, the people of Muskogee have resolve," Coleman said. "The people of Muskogee are determined that nothing will keep us down."
The mayor said in order for Muskogee to grow it must prove itself "as a community of love."
"It's unfortunate that a couple of weeks back, a young man felt he was the victim of a hate crime," Coleman said. "As of today, we will be working with the council and city staff to pass our own anti-hate crime legislation so that every young person, every family — no matter what their color or gender — feels safe and protected in the city of Muskogee."
Coleman talked about how Muskogee navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We never saw businesses close, we never saw where churches had to close," Coleman said. "We never imagined our hospitals being over-run."
Coleman acknowledged the recent increase in new COVID-19 cases reported across Oklahoma. He expressed his belief that God will see Muskogee through the pandemic.
"The only thing we need now is for people to go back to work — there are employment signs all over the community," Coleman said, reminding residents to never forget the value of hard work. "Every community wants to grow, every community wants to be open for business, but the only way to keep our community alive — and for people to want to be in our city — is to have an avenue for people who want to be back to work."
Coleman said the U.S. 69 widening project is in "full swing" as the city acquires rights of way. He expressed hope that widening the highway to seven lanes could be finished before 2026.
"We're working, as we acquire those rights of way that we don't lose the Kum & Go gas station at 69 and Arline," he said. "For many of our residents, that's not only a gas station, that's their grocery store — that's their way of survival."
People attending the event said they have seen progress during the past year.
"The pot holes are mostly fixed," Ashley Lester said. "They get out to the pot holes really quick now."
Bill Csizmadia celebrated feeling better and being vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I was quarantined for 15 months," he said. "I got my shots back in February and took my mask off two months ago, and I'm not wearing it again."