The Fourth of July weekend in Oak Bluffs was a big mess last year, everyone said.

There was too much traffic. An ambulance couldn’t get through a street crowded with people. There were clashes between cultures and, when people talked about the weekend later, blatant racism.

Bob Holland of Oak Bluffs stayed home, but he heard all about it. And he sees no reason why all these people shouldn’t enjoy Oak Bluffs on its biggest holiday weekend.

So this year, he will be there to help with other members of the new Martha’s Vineyard Million Man Association.

Wearing blue and white T-shirts with their organization’s name, between 20 and 30 members of the Million Man Association will circulate on Circuit avenue July 5 and 6, and on Inkwell Beach, where a concert is scheduled for Friday. They will answer questions, let police know of any infractions and try to set an example for how to behave in the town.

“No matter how you view it,” Mr. Holland said, “it could be a potentially explosive situation, without people having sensitivity to the diversity that exists here.

“We may be able to diffuse situations before they develop into something that’s embarrassing or detrimental .<\q>.<\q>. to begin to bridge the gap and create some kind of communication. I think an organization such as ours can do that. By working with the police, we can create a dialogue.”

Last year’s Fourth of July weekend went without major problems. In fact, many describe it as a great success and evidence of the town’s economic health.

Still, the tremendous number of people, some police department policies and evidence of racial tension stimulated talk and concern. The police department conducted several meetings on the topic last fall.

And some of these problems seem like the kind Mr. Holland’s group can address, he said.

This group has been meeting since December, drawing 30 to 50 men once a month to the Cottagers building in Oak Bluffs. Like many across the country, the group was inspired by the Million Man March in October in Washington, D.C. The march celebrated unity among men and urged them to work for healthy families and communities. Mr. Holland and several others attended.

Now, the Island’s Million Man Association is actively working to provide support and mentoring for African-American youths, for African-American owned businesses and for the community in general.

“The Million Man March was a meaningful event,” said Mr. Holland, a retired psychologist. “That’s why we retained the name. It’s too bad that people only saw Minister [Louis] Farrakhan instead of what the goals are. One of the main messages we got was to go back to your communities and start building something.”

This kind of help was needed in Oak Bluffs last summer, Mr. Holland said. He cited a wide variety of concerns:

First, there were some legitimate worries about crowd management.

Besides that, some residents, including long-time members of the town’s African-American community, stayed away. They said that newer, first-time visitors to the Island don’t understand the small-town character of Oak Bluffs.

Meanwhile, some visitors -- which included many African-American youths -- were uncomfortable because of the police presence: mounted police officers and officers wearing black leather gloves. Mr. Holland notes dryly that such precautions aren’t taken at events such as the Tisbury Street Fair.

“Maybe other people were not looking at it the way we were looking at it, but we were offended by it,” he said. “It means that they want to give the appearance of being formidable.”

And there were racist reactions to the presence of so many African-American people on Circuit avenue. After the weekend, an Island resident wrote a now-infamous letter to the Gazette complaining of the African-American “invasion” of the Island.

“You know, he represents a line of thinking that exists here on the Island,” Mr. Holland said. “I didn’t see that as just that one person. He was saying, ‘Let’s take back the Island.’ There’s a lot of people who feel that way. This comes out of ignorance too, because they’re not aware that blacks have been here way back into the 1600s and 1700s.”

Obviously, Mr. Holland doesn’t expect to eradicate racism this July.

But his group can help make the weekend more orderly and pleasant, he said. Simply being available to answer visitors’ questions will help, Mr. Holland said.

“They would sooner ask someone who they think is tied into the community, who is black, than a stranger,” he said.

Mr. Holland added that many guests will have questions, because many are coming to the Island for the first time.

This is trend is relatively new. Though the town has had a large African-American summer community since the turn of the century, in decades past, vacationers had stronger ties to the community. In the past 25 years, the town has developed a wider popularity and some visitors have never been to the Island before.

“Not that it can’t be a positive experience,” he said. “But there needs to be cooperation between those that are here and those that are coming.

“We want to show them that we respect the town, we love the Vineyard and it’s not something to be abused. Just look at the beach after the crowd leaves. Even as a child, when we came, we were taught to clean up the area.”

Other strategies will change the nature of the town’s big weekend.

New events are planned for Friday and Saturday nights at Inkwell Beach and at the Oak Bluffs School. These events were planned by Mr. Holland’s wife, Michele Holland, who is the town’s multicultural coordinator. The hope is that these events will help alleviate the heavy crowding of Circuit avenue.

Because police had difficulty with alcohol in the street last year, they are posting information about the town’s noise and liquor bylaws in prominent places along Circuit avenue and in the town’s package stores. The town’s bars will make their last calls at 12:30 a.m. and close at 1 a.m., an hour earlier than last year. Police had difficulty controlling alcohol consumption last year. Circuit avenue will close to cars at 9 p.m.

There will be the same number of officers -- about 18 -- but none of them will be on horseback. Use of gloves is still being discussed within the police department. Some feel that the gloves are necessary for protection from disease, said police chief George Fisher, noting that “there are very valid concerns on both sides.”

In all, Mr. Fisher is predicting a “safer and more enjoyable weekend.”

“We’re going to have to really review the whole thing as it goes along,” he said, noting that a new Steamship Authority policy may have some impact on the weekend.

But Mr. Holland said that the police department can’t be expected to do everything.

The community must help, too.

“We have been talking with George since last summer because of what happened on the Fourth,” he said. “There are many constructive things that we can do as residents of the Island. By working with the police we can create a dialogue where we, as members of the Million Man Association, can reach these people much more effectively than anybody.”