Photography by Daniel Barceló

Profiles of men leading the way in business, creativity, and kindness


Emerson Bamaca, a managing partner of Nineteen61, is determined to provide the best service, attention to detail, and bring something special through a cocktail that will change what Lakelanders are used to. As a local business owner, he never forgets to count his blessings and stresses the importance of a strong work ethic.

“Growing up in a city like San Francisco and working in different high-end bars and restaurants, I wanted to bring a little of my knowledge and passion to Lakeland. I felt committed to proving that we could have something special here in Lakeland,” says Emerson Bamaca.

As one of the managing partners of Nineteen61, Bamaca can often be found behind the bar, known as BAR61, of the recently opened restaurant in downtown Lakeland. In his role, Bamaca is dedicated to providing great service, attention to detail, and making cocktails that make people feel “special and happy.”

Born in Guatemala City, Bamaca grew up in San Francisco, eventually moving to Lakeland four years ago. “My wife grew up here in Lakeland, and when we had our daughter, it just made sense to make the move back ‘home.’”

Bamaca started his career as a bartender and went on to become a professional mixologist and bar consultant. “Getting involved with Marcos [Fernandez, executive chef] and Lindsay [J. Crowley, managing partner] has been a dream come true. We all share the same ideals and passion for the restaurant business. Marcos’ food is what makes Nineteen61 special, and by opening BAR61, I’m able to complement the business.”

Determination is what connects Bamaca to Lakeland. He is committed to supporting small businesses and integrating them into his bar program. “I believe that supporting others is what creates strong community. In my four years in Lakeland, I’ve been lucky enough to have met amazing people that have helped me in different ways, and I hope I can pay it forward,” he says.

When it comes to being a business owner in the community, Bamaca believes that being a man of character is someone who works hard for his dreams. “In today’s society, it’s hard, because people judge you based on your skin color, hair, or the way you talk. I strongly believe that a man of character is one who works hard for his dreams, accepts his mistakes, and moves on.”



Dedicated to providing impartial news for Lakeland, Barry Friedman, founder of LkldNow, incorporates his journalistic skills into his organization in order to inspire people to get involved in their local communities. To Friedman, being a man of integrity in his field involves seeking understanding between people and striving for fairness.

In a world where journalism is ever-evolving, Barry Friedman is committed to providing a source for credible, impartial news and information. A community journalist, Friedman is often faced with the question of how journalism will survive at a time when the traditional business model for news is failing.

“We’re opting for a non-profit model here because we feel it telegraphs that our purpose is to inform readers rather than to please advertisers or generate a lot of traffic through clickbait,” he says. 

With more than four decades of experience as a journalist, Friedman started working at The Ledger as city editor in the early 1980s, eventually moving to serve as a news editor, features editor, and managing editor of digital. During his 32 years there, he also developed and helped oversee its growth.

Since transitioning out of The Ledger, Friedman founded LkldNow, an independent, community-driven news operation. Heoversees the daily operation of the news site and its social media in a full-time volunteer role. “We are hyper-focused on Lakeland and efforts to make it a more livable city. As a non-profit, our mission is to educate people about Lakeland in order to get them more involved with the community.”

Beyond the news desk, Friedman has been involved in the Lakeland community through leadership of the parent-teacher organizations at Harrison School for the Arts and Dixieland Elementary School, in addition to having been an officer at Temple Emanuel in Lakeland and Congregation Beth Shalom in Winter Haven. He currently serves on the board of LkldLive.

When asked what it means to be a man of integrity in today’s world, Friedman says, “A person of character has a fundamental understanding of who they are and how they relate to the people around them. Those core beliefs guide their decisions and interactions with others. For me, that means seeking understanding between people and striving for fairness.”


Lifestyle entrepreneur Ray Allen envisions a metropolitan community with healthy people enjoying life together. His tenacity for building a better tomorrow is seen in everything he does — from his family, in his role in a multicultural affairs department at a university, and through his desire to understand the Lakeland community both past and present. He believes you can see what people value based on the way they live.

“In order to be a man of integrity, regardless of the height that you have reached, I think you have to be willing to lay titles and honors down and put them to the side for the sake of reaching someone else.” Describing himself as a student of life, Ray Allen shares the value of being disciplined to continue to learn, master, and grow indifferent areas of life. Allen also characterizes integrity as consistency through a relentless pursuit of honesty, character, and seeking what’s right over preference. This essence can be found in his mantra, “Purpose over Position.”

With more than 15 years of experience in higher education, Allen currently serves as the director of multicultural affairs of his alma mater, Southeastern University. “I love the fact that diversity is such a broad word because it gives me opportunities to make connections and build bridges that are necessary for our best future.”

In his early years of college, Allen got involved at the Dream Center where he saw “the opportunity to impact communities.” He now serves on the core team at United City, a nonprofit that works with churches and organizations to collaborate in order to create greater impact. When Hurricane Irma hit Central Florida, Allen helped United City organize a collaboration across eight businesses to quickly mobilize and feed more than 5,000 people locally. United City also organizes the National Day of Prayer at Lake Mirror in May and Q-Commons, a forum that hosts community conversations around local and national topics that impact culture. Allen leads Q-U which is geared toward conversations in university communities.

A love for Lakeland during a unique season in time is what keeps Allen and his family in Central Florida. “I think there is a lot of hope in the city of Lakeland because there is so much room to be creative, grow, and develop, but I know these prime opportunities couldn’t have happened without the generation that went before us.”

Whether it’s helping a person with the greatest need in a community, or serving the next generation of leaders, Allen believes it’s imperative to leave a legacy for the next generation. “We need more people building bridges and roadmaps for all of those to come. So then, at the end of our lifetime, we can look back and know that we have left something better than what we have experienced.”


An entrepreneur and business owner of five local companies, Dennis Harrison finds fulfillment in serving others. He learned early on that success comes through hard work and determination. Dedicating more than 25 years to men’s ministry, Harrison is passionate about mentoring the next generation of men and encouraging them to become men of integrity.

Dennis Harrison understands the value of commitment and determination. At the age of 12, he started his first job, pulling weeds on a flower-bulb farm. Growing up in Bartow, Harrison was raised by a single mother. He remembers his family struggling financially, not even having the luxury of an inside toilet. Harrison started working after school to help provide for his family. Following high school, he moved to Lakeland to pursue job opportunities. “Little did I know that within a few decades Lakeland would become one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S.,” he says.

Soon into working, Harrison realized that he wanted to be a business owner. At 22 years old, while employed by Sears, he started a drapery business. Two years later, in 1974, he purchased Drapery Center and also started another company, Central Workroom, where he created custom draperies for local decorators. That same year, he launched Sunshine Draperies, later renamed Sunshine Interiors.

His entrepreneurial spirit didn’t stop there. In the 1980s, he started Royal American Foods and Meadowfresh Milk Company, and launched a daycare center in Bartow known as Bartow Wee Care. His most recent business acquisition was in 2018 when he purchased the local franchise of Carefree Closets. “If you were to ask my secret to becoming a successful businessman, it’s because of commitment and determination, as well as God’s favor in great employees who always provide dedicated customer service.”

In the community, Harrison is highly involved with Victory Church in Lakeland. For the past 25 years, he has led a men’s ministry. He also serves with the Salvation Army on the advisory board and has been a member of Kiwanis since 1983. “Serving the community through involvement in worthy civic organizations brings me joy and a sense of purpose. It truly is my passion.”

Harrison shares the need for men of character in the world today —
men whose words are reflected in their daily actions and lifestyles. “As men of character, we are to be trustworthy in our relationships, our work, and in our community. Men of character will make a difference in our society today.”


As a local professor and artist, Sam Romero’s interest lies in how design and culture influence the way people think. Using his experience as an artist and passion for design, Romero holds workshops and speaks with local creative communities. He sees being a man of integrity in today’s world as being respectful and empathetic.

Design. Culture. It’s the interplay of these two words that keeps Sam Romero intrigued. An associate professor ofart and design at Florida Southern College and an interdisciplinary artist, Romero currently focuses on creative content regarding branding and design. “I am specifically interested in how design and culture influence the way we think,” he says.

His passion for design and culture transcends into the classroom through introducing students and the local creative community to designers who inspire him. The presentations and workshops he holds with designers are open to the public. “I’ve been able to bring several amazing designers to Lakeland to present to my students and to the creative community. A few of these designers are Aaron Draplin, Nando Costa, Marisol Ortega, and Victor Melendez.” 

A graduate of Florida Southern, Romero went on to earn his master’s in fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His involvement in the Lakeland community has been through teaching at Florida Southern College, with some of his students staying local to pursue careers in design, marketing, and teaching.

Outside of the classroom, Romero is currently editing a documentary in addition to researching design histories. “I am starting to research design histories that have been ignored, specifically indigenous design narratives. This work is part of my academic and creative practice.”

Having lived in Lakeland for more than 15 years, Romero is inspired to invest his time into helping the local creative community. “I’ve also had the pleasure of speaking with many local creatives regarding their projects and ideas. I make it a point to help out when I can.”

With everything that he involves himself in, Romero sees being a man of integrity in today’s world and culture as “being respectful and empathetic.”


For Cory Petcoff, president of Baron Realty, faith is imperative to living a life of integrity. It’s what plays into everything he is committed to within the Lakeland community — from his investment in the future of the city, through the boards on which he serves, to his dedication to his family.

Cory Petcoff believes in creating a better future for the city of Lakeland through redevelopment projects in downtown and Dixieland. A native of Lakeland, Petcoff is the president of Baron Realty, a real estate company that has served Lakeland for more than 20 years. An established real estate professional, he works as a commercial real estate investor, broker, and property manager.

Petcoff’s investment in the community extends beyond his office and into the local organizations that he commits his time to through serving on a variety of boards. He currently serves on the boards of Lakeland Economic Development Council, Lakeland Christian School, Lakeland Regional Health (the hospital where he was born), and the City of Lakeland CRA.

Although he devotes a lot of his time to the city of Lakeland, Petcoff is most passionate about his faith and family. He and his family attend All Saints Episcopal Church.

Petcoff’s faith is what keeps him grounded. It’s also what he believes makes a man of integrity in today’s world. “I do not think the traits that define a man of character have changed at all over time,” says Petcoff as he refers to a passage found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke in the Bible. He shares that when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus responded with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus went on to say, “And a second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s these two commandments that Petcoff believes are paramount in a man of integrity in the world today. “Can you imagine if all of humanity embraced those two statements? They are easy to say, but much more difficult to live out.”