Not long after the Rev. Otis Gordon arrived in Toledo approximately 14 years ago, a Ku Klux Klan-affiliated group held a rally in the city.
What the Rev. Gordon remembers most about the event is the way Toledo residents rallied to organize a counter-protest.
“We could not prevent them from having an opportunity to voice their opinions, but we did not have to accept that,” he said.
Kip Holley, a research assistant with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, left, speaks during the Toledo Community Coalition forum on Tuesday.
Since then, Pastor Gordon has worked tirelessly as an advocate of racial equity in Toledo. He’s served as chairman of the Toledo Community Coalition and helped to organize a series of forums called “Changing Minds & Changing Lives: Combating Racism.”
The discussion series continued Tuesday as the Rev. Gordon and a couple hundred Toledo residents attended a forum on equitable civic engagement at Bowsher High School.
Attendees of the two-and-a-half-hour event, which was hosted by the Community Coalition and co-sponsored by The Blade, first listened to a presentation by Kip Holley, a staff member at Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
Mr. Holley’s lecture, which marked the first collaboration between the TCC and Kirwan Institute, centered largely around principles of equitable civic engagement, including embracing diversity within communities, learning to disagree and deal with dissent, and recognizing the role race, power and injustice play in society.
“Civic engagement affects everyone,” he said. “When most of us think about civic engagement, we think about meetings. Maybe we think about voting. But nobody thinks too much about community gardens. Nobody thinks about those conversations you have on your front porch.”
Jenifer Belt, a resident of the Old West End, said her neighborhood is not immune to instances of racism.
“We all have bias and to say otherwise is foolish,” she said, recalling several incidents in which her neighbors have posted on Facebook to warn of black men they thought were “suspicious looking.”
TCC organizers called the event a success and noted high attendance was meaningful given the recent passing of Dialogue to Change’s founder, Pastor Karen Shepler.
“This is a testament of the work that she has done,” the Rev. Gordon said of the forum.
Contact Antonia Ayres-Brown at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6368.