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A group of ministers in Toledo is planning to take advantage of the renewed focus on race relations by encouraging the races to treat each other with overt acts of niceness.
“Be Kind to a Different Race Month” will make the curmudgeons among us cringe, but that doesn't bother the Rev. Robert A. Culp, pastor of First Church of God in the Old West End and chairman of the Toledo Community Coalition.
“Between the races there’s so many negative things happening nobody should be surprised at a negative response,” Pastor Culp said. “There’s some risk involved for any person who performs an act of kindness — and some risk on the part of anyone who receives it.”
Under the effort, participants will do an anonymous kindness for someone of another racial group.
Mr. Culp said the program will be kicked off in participating churches Sunday. He said approximately 20 churches are expected to participate so far, and his job is to recruit about 10 black churches.
The churches associated with Toledo Community Coalition are being supplied with cards with the coalition’s telephone number. When somebody does an anonymous act of kindness — such as raking a lawn, paying a restaurant bill, or making a hospital visit — the recipient will be handed a card and invited to call and report the event. That’s so the Toledo Community Coalition can monitor the program.
A forum on race was held Sept. 12 at Woodward High School.
The “Changing Minds and Changing Lives: Combating Racism” forum was sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo Community Coalition. The event featured a speech by author Tim Wise and a discussion panel with community leaders. Stories and commentary about the events can be found at toledoblade.com/toledoforums.
Organizers were motivated to hold the forum in part after The Blade’s publication of “Battle Lines: Gangs of Toledo,” a series of stories that started in April and sparked discussions about gangs and race. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Florida fatal shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin provided another timely reason to discuss racial issues locally.
Pastor Culp said he got the idea from a book by Steve Sjogren, Conspiracy of Kindness, which promotes “servant evangelism” — using acts of kindness to communicate the Gospel. He said the book tells how Cincinnati churches helped transform their city that had previously been ranked the “third most unfriendly city in America.”
Toledo’s twist on Mr. Sjogren’s idea is to add race to the mixture. Be Kind to a Different Race Month is so unusual that the expression didn’t even come up in an Internet search.
“We adopted and adapted an idea that’s been used in other places,” Pastor Culp said. “The key thing that’s different, that’s never been done before, is that ours involves the aspect of race.
“It’s not just white folks doing good things for black folks. It’s any man doing what they can for persons of another race or another culture. This will require you to go out of your way to find somebody to be kind to,” Pastor Culp said.
Reached by The Blade, Mr. Sjogren said Pastor Culp’s plan is “super positive.”
Such acts make people feel loved and accepted, he said.
He said for years he has walked into stores, restaurants, and mosques and cleaned the toilets as a modern version of Jesus’ practice of washing feet.
“I think it can be one of the most powerful things we can possibly do, especially if it involves using my time and my energy to do it,” said Mr. Sjogren, an ordained minister. He said those acts of generosity almost always lead to interesting conversations.
He said he often pays for somebody else’s food or drinks when he’s in restaurants, including two weeks ago in Venice Beach, Calif., when he saw what appeared to be a group of people from the Middle East.
They turned out to be three Jewish students traveling from Israel.
“Instead of any conflict whatever, they were blown away. They were giddy with excitement,” Mr. Sjogren said. “We talked for an hour.”
Why do it for a month?
“If you do it for a month it becomes your lifestyle and you’ll keep it up for the rest of your life,” Pastor Culp said.
Though acts of kindness could happen in many ways, here are some of the Toledo Community Coalition’s suggestions to the get ball rolling: umbrella escorts, grocery purchases, grocery cart return, sunglasses gift, candy pack giveaway, car wash, doggie dirt cleanup, free tutoring, yard mulch, pen and pencil giveaway, leaf raking, lawn mowing, potted plant giveaway, food pickup and delivery, sidewalk sweeping, gutter cleaning, restaurant tab, gas pump purchase, empty garbage can return, laundromat machine quarters, friendship cards, fishing bait or gear, hospital visit, gift cards, and auto oil change.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.