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Blacks have power to change situation, noted attorney tells audience at BGSU

BOWLING GREEN — Blacks must take responsibility for their own problems or they will continue to be their own worst enemies, a noted Cleveland attorney said Saturday during a conference at Bowling Green State University.

Focusing on blame for the black community’s problems will not solve them, Kathryn Williams said in her keynote speech to about 250 black students, school officials, and community leaders at the 14th Annual Black Issues Conference, which kicked off BGSU’s celebration of Black History Month.

“I don’t care about who created this mess — it’s up to us to clean it up,” Ms. Williams said.

“It’s Black Power to say we’re not going to continue this way any longer.”

Problems she cited included alarmingly high student drop-out rates, drugs, crime, and high unemployment and incarceration rates.

Ms. Williams encouraged black students to pursue their education. But she also told them to avoid being “ghettoized” by being herded into lower-paying careers and jobs with limited advancement opportunities.

“Remember, most of us are only one angry white man away from the unemployment line,” Ms. Williams said. “Why? Because we have no power.”

Blacks can empower themselves and their community by changing their expectations and goals, she said, urging conference participants to pursue careers that lead to executive positions such as college and bank presidents, and raise their children to do well in school and be good citizens.

Blacks’ biggest challenge, she said, is that they have been conditioned to believe they aren’t capable.

“They [whites] don’t have to hate us if they can teach us to hate ourselves,” Ms. Williams said.

That theme also was evident in many of the workshops offered during the conference, which was titled “The Power of One: Building a Commitment to Constructive Cooperation.”

Participants in a “Social Change: The Power of One” workshop explored how communities are shaped by the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the people who live in them.

Moderator Jammie Jelks encouraged his workshop participants to think about “how we build the right qualities that develop into leadership and social change.”

Students Debery Manier, Jr., 18, and Monet Moore and Monique Waters, both 21, agreed that the most essential qualities include self-esteem and self-worth.

Sometimes that requires people or whole communities to change, said Joetta Kynard, a higher education administrator for BGSU’s Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education.

“You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results,” said Ms. Kynard, who also attended the social-change workshop.

Other workshop topics addressed black homophobia, entrepreneurship, relationships, career planning for black women, resume building, and ways to become an effective leader.

BGSU sophomore Kris Murray said he attended the conference because he wanted to hear what others thought about issues facing the black community.

He said he’s concerned about the high number of black males in prison and school drop-out rates.

“I didn’t come here necessarily expecting to change things, but to discuss them,” the political science major, 19, said.

Ms. Williams encouraged students such as Mr. Murray to do more than just discuss concerns.

“It doesn’t matter how many times you post on your Facebook, ‘Where’s Rev. Al [Sharpton], where’s Jesse [Jackson]? Where’s Moses?’ ” Ms. Williams said.

“Jesus already gave us the power. We have the power. We must take responsibility for ourselves.”

Contact Federico Martinez at: fmartinez@theblade.com or 419724-6154.

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