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Published: Sunday, 9/1/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Changing Minds and Changing Lives: Combating Racism

Forums intend to spark discussion about race in Toledo

Anti-racist author to speak Sept. 12

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A public forum featuring a renown anti-racist author and educator aims to spark a community discussion about race in Toledo.

Tim Wise, author of the memoir White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son and other books, will speak at a free Sept. 12 forum at Woodward High School Auditorium.

The event is sponsored by the Toledo Community Coalition and The Blade. It launches an ongoing effort to combat racism through forums, which will take place every other month into March, along with smaller community study groups.

Organizers hope the first forum and Mr. Wise’s frank talk of white privilege and institutional racism will cause listeners to experience an epiphany that changes minds and lives. The long-range goal is to engage residents and leaders in a conversation about racism and find solutions to problems.

“I feel that it has the potential to overcome almost all of the obstacles to genuine unity and oneness in our community,” said the Rev. Robert A. Culp, pastor of First Church of God in the Old West End and co-chairman of the Toledo Community Coalition.

Changing Minds and Changing Lives: Combating Racism

What: A community forum featuring anti-racist author, educator, and essayist Tim Wise followed by a discussion panel with community leaders

Where: Woodward High School Auditorium, 701 East Central Ave., Toledo

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 12

Admission: Free, with secured parking provided

For more information: Email toledoforum@gmail.com

The idea for the effort sprang from discussions between coalition members and editors of The Blade following the newspaper’s series “Battle Lines: Gangs of Toledo,” which debuted in April. The series delineated territories of local gangs and probed problems associated with gang life. Pastor Culp said his focus is not where gangs operate but on eliminating “the causes that create gangs.”

A Florida jury’s July not-guilty verdict clearing George Zimmerman of charges related to the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin provided another timely reason for organizers to tackle race topics.

The gang series opened eyes to problems facing Toledo and other cities its size, said Kurt Franck, The Blade’s executive editor. Problems include gangs, poverty, people not getting along, and lack of jobs, he said.

The coalition — formed in 2011 by local pastors concerned about issues affecting African-Americans — and the newspaper teamed up to plan and sponsor the effort. It’s a community role Mr. Franck said newspapers should play more frequently.

The first forum featuring Mr. Wise will help people understand that racism exists here and elsewhere, he said.

“We’re going to stumble before we solve some problems or come up with solutions, but at least we’re going to try it,” Mr. Franck said. “It’s an important thing that a newspaper and corporate citizens need to do to improve our community.”

Mr. Wise was chosen as the first speaker because organizers think his message about institutional racism and white privilege is a powerful starting point for conversation. The Nashville resident has spoken to hundreds of colleges, high schools, and community groups, and frequently is tapped to discuss race issues on CNN and other television and radio outlets.

He speaks passionately about racial profiling, recruitment and promotion policies used by businesses that discriminate against minorities, and how teachers can be conscious of the way race affects students in their classrooms. He has conducted anti-racism training for teachers, physicians, government and law enforcement officials, and journalists.

“If you are not aware of your own privileges … you may not think about the ways that your position in the world affects the way you relate to other people in the world with a different position,” Mr. Wise said.

Institutional racism exists in education, business, government, unions, and even churches — hindering minorities from moving forward, said the Rev. Otis Gordon, senior pastor at Warren AME Church and a coalition co-chairman.

“We do have a problem with racism, and we have a problem with institutional racism, and we do think it’s important for white people to understand what white privilege is all about,” he said.

He believes hearing Mr. Wise’s message can change the perspective of those in power.

The Rev. Karen Shepler, a coalition member who recently retired from Monroe Street United Methodist Church, said many don’t understand institutional racism.

She hopes people from all walks of life attend the forum and participate in future programs because residents need to come together and learn about behaviors and attitudes that can break down racial barriers.

“We need to do it now before we have a crisis that draws us apart,” Pastor Shepler said.

Toledo residents can combat racism “just by becoming informed,” she said.

The forum also will introduce the concept of study circles, made up of participants from various backgrounds who share experiences and discuss racial issues and solutions over the course of six to eight weeks.

Organizers plan to start the study circles with representatives from community groups and government agencies, and then branch out to include the general public.

Toledo Public Schools students who are members of Young Women of Excellence and Young Men of Excellence will work as greeters and help out at the Sept. 12 event, which includes a panel discussion featuring community leaders that will follow Mr. Wise’s speech.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, is among the panel participants. He said race issues are intertwined with poverty, and such forums are a chance to expose people to a world outside their own and stop stereotypes.

“If Toledo can really engage itself in knowing each other’s neighbors and knowing our neighborhoods … and working together … I think some ideas will flourish,” he said. “You never know what’s going to work, but if you don’t do it nothing will ever happen.”

Mr. Wise called dialogue “sterile” unless it leads those participating in the conversation to figure out how to change policies or procedures. One challenge is that institutions that back such efforts “don’t necessarily know what they are in for.”

“This can be a very difficult discussion and a very risky one, especially if you are going to tackle things like institutional racism and white privilege,” Mr. Wise said.

Pastor Culp said organizers believe the forums and associated programs won’t be “just another conversation.” In the past, there’s been plenty of talk, but this push differs because it aims to reach the entire community in an ongoing effort.

“Toledo is America, so to speak” he said. “We are a microcosm of the kinds of things that need to be discussed across the country.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6056, or on Twitter @vanmccray.



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