The Toledo Board of Community Relations and the community group Building Bridges Toward Racial Harmony want local residents to get on the same page - literally.
Representatives of the BCR and the organization met yesterday - with the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr., Day as a backdrop - to encourage citizens to read the book Race Manners: Navigating the Minefield Between Black and White Americans, by Harvard-educated author Bruce A. Jacobs.
Mr. Jacobs has described his book as a practical work that challenges black and white Americans to shed their racial presumptions and encourages people to honestly confront racial assumptions and misgivings in everyday life.
Building Bridges Toward Racial Harmony formed after the city looked into the possibility of naming Collingwood Boulevard in honor of the slain civil rights leader in 2001. The effort brought a storm of protest, mainly from Old West End residents.
Then-mayor Carty Finkbeiner backed away from that choice and recommended to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority that Central Union Plaza be named for Dr. King. Last year, Mayor Jack Ford renamed the two-block road leading to the train station Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive.
Juanita Greene, the BCR's executive director, said the book discussion was an effort to continue to heal wounds opened from the sometimes racially divided tension regarding Collingwood.
“A controversy like that will not divide our community,” Ms. Greene said.
Mr. Jacobs, who lives in Baltimore but has relatives in Toledo, spoke at three events sponsored by Building Bridges during the holiday last year after members read his book.
Mary Clare Reitz, a spokesman for Building Bridges, said afterward that event member Ward Ensign suggested the group start a citywide discussion on the book. Mr. Finkbeiner introduced Toledoans to community reading projects in 2001 with his “One Book, One Toledo” program, during which he asked citizens to read the best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie.
While organizers said they don't know how much impact reading the book will have on citizens, they are inspired by the fact that 26 entities have agreed to start discussion groups of between 10 to 15 people.
“We see this as a starting point,” said Stephen MacDonald, a diversity trainer who along with Crystal Harris, will instruct facilitators for each discussion group. “Every place needs a starting point. Even the most enlightened people need a reawakening and know there is support out there.”
The book discussions will take place from Jan. 27 to Feb. 27, organizers said.
Mr. Jacobs plans to speak in Toledo Feb. 27 at Owens Community College, where the discussion groups will come together to talk about the book.
Ms. Reitz said she wanted to keep the group's options open for what happens after Feb. 27. She said they would like the discussions to continue but does not know how it will develop into a future project.