Time to talk race in Atlanta

Moderated by Rick Badie

Can we talk? About race, that is. Given the Hawks’ controversy, now just might be a good time for racial dialogue. Today, a guest writer invites us to partake in “It’s Time to Talk: A Forum on Race,” an inaugural event Tuesday at the Delta Flight Museum. Two other essays also delve into racial matters; one suggests racial justice begins at the ballot box, while the other confronts an “attitude that kills young black men.”

Now’s time to have dialogue

By Laura Turner Sydel

Now is the time for Atlantans to come together to reflect on how we can enhance and modernize the conversation on race relations and the ignorance that is prevalent today. Our generation needs to be proactive instead of reactive, vigilant in recognizing injustice as it arises and knowing how to prevent problems before they begin.

Why is it so important to have this dialogue now?

News headlines and current events that underscore inequality, intolerance and ignorance make this a critical conversation. Atlanta is known as a mecca for civil and human rights, and in many ways, we are increasingly becoming a model for the nation; but we have a ways to go. Eleanor Roosevelt told the United Nations in 1958, “Without concerted citizen action to uphold (universal human rights) close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

As Atlantans, we must build our legacy. We’ve taken a step forward with the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. What should be done next?

It is critical to create a safe place for discussions on race relations. I am honored to have been asked by my good friend Letty Ashworth to join her, the YWCA of Greater Atlanta and Delta Air Lines to bring an inaugural program to our region that creates a place for learning, understanding and discussion.

In recent years, I’ve worked closely with community leaders such as the Revs. Bernice King and Gerald Durley on issues of violence relating to gender and the environment. This resulted in one of the biggest honors of my life, when I was asked to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Aug. 28, 2013.So it is with great pride I share that on Sept. 23 at the Delta Flight Museum, more than 600 community members will engage in a dialogue on race at “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race,” the YWCA’s inaugural event.

Additionally, I am proud to observe that one of Atlanta’s most revered citizens accepted his Nobel Peace Prize 50 years ago this year. In his acceptance speech, King said, “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.”

According to Karin Ryan, senior project adviser for human rights at the Carter Center, nonviolent solutions require, above all, that we respect one another. President Jimmy Carter’s most recent book, “A Call to Action,” dedicated to Ryan, details how religion is used around the globe to condone violence and oppression towards women. We have been blessed with leaders like King and living heroes like Carter,

Next year at the Georgia World Congress Center, the Rev. Joseph Lowry, Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and others will host the 2015 World Summit of Peace Laureates. Nonviolence will be a critically important theme addressed at that November, 2015 summit.

As a city, we have been blessed with a rich and unique heritage. It is time we take additional steps toward a nonviolent answer and get the conversation going. We all have a vested interest in participating in this dialogue. Can we imagine an Atlanta that will grow and prosper all of our citizens? Can we imagine a high-functioning city where the opportunity to create and live the American Dream is possible for all?

“It’s Time to Talk” is an important step on the path to making that vision a reality. We want your voice in the conversation. For details: www.ywcaatlanta.org

People should care enough to vote

By Nina R. Hickson

Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride and many others.

We hear their stories and are outraged, heartbroken, overwhelmed, shocked and filled with dismay. Demonstrations over the past few weeks indicate the community wishes to be heard about these tragedies. The community cares about the killing of unarmed men and women; folks are concerned about how to obtain justice when these events occur; mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles want someone held accountable for what has happened.

However, do we care enough to use one of the most important tools in our arsenal? Are we willing to become informed, educate others and VOTE?

Admittedly, issues raised by these recent shootings are complex and multi-faceted. There is not just one answer. How do we make the world value the lives of persons demonized and stereotyped in the mass media? What do we do to prevent the proliferation of guns in our neighborhoods? What are we to do about police brutality, racial profiling, mass incarceration of people of color and misuse of “stand your ground” laws? How do we make our children feel safe in a violent environment? What are the steps we take to help them become the best that they can be when they are “under siege” and “under suspicion”?

I don’t pretend to have the answers for these questions. What I do know is that apathy is not the response.

We must participate in electing those who make decisions that affect our everyday lives — whether it is the school board member who hires the superintendent, or the prosecutor who decides what cases to bring and suggests sentences, or the judge who decides who stays locked up, who gets custody of children and how persons who violate the public trust are punished.It is said that “all politics is local.” This is particularly true when determining who is hired to “protect and serve.”

Whether you live in a city where the mayor leads day-to-day operations, or a city where a city manager or administrator runs things, those you elect as mayor, city council person or commissioner recruit and hire your police chief. That chief hires and supervises your police officers.

If we did not learn anything else from recent events, we should have learned that it matters who the police officers are who have daily contact with the public. These decisions are not made by the president or Congress. Local elected officials make the decisions about the folks who impact your everyday lives. As a voter, you determine your local elected officials.

When you don’t vote, you essentially leave that decision to others who may not represent the concerns of your community. As you have seen, these decisions can determine life or death. We cannot afford to remain silent or to be inactive.

We are told the numbers of people who vote in local elections is significantly less than those who vote in elections for president of the United States. Predictions for the November mid-term elections are for that pattern to continue.

We as a community cannot abdicate our right and duty to vote. Our quality of life and the safety of our neighborhoods depend on our actions. More importantly, our children’s ability to realize the American dream depends on adults voting for responsible and proactive people who will make the right decisions, and the same adults calling elected officials to task when they do not.

We should never forget the many sacrifices made for this cherished right to vote. Shame on us if we do! Not only are the health and well-being of our communities at stake, but the future of our precious children and generations to come depend on you and me.

How will we respond?

Nina R. Hickson is a former juvenile court judge.

These attitudes can kill

By Jerome E. Morris

It is Saturday morning, and I am prodding my son and daughter to get dressed in order to tour a historic black neighborhood, Macedonia/Bagley Park, that once existed in Buckhead. Beginning in the 1940s, Atlanta officials razed this and other black neighborhoods, displacing hundreds of families.

While I am hurriedly placing the oatmeal in boiling water and scrambling eggs, an elderly white neighbor rings the doorbell. Politely, we say good morning.

My neighbor begins. “Here is the latest flier. Somebody tried to steal a lady’s car Tuesday. We are going to have to be on the lookout because these people don’t care and will hurt you.”

This flier, like others, is replete with statements of how “thugs” and “immigrants” contribute to the decline of the neighborhood and America. Countless times, I have asked him to avoid using this kind of language. I repeat my concerns.

“Most young black males walking around here are not trying to rob anyone. They just want to have fun with their friends.” I describe how too many black males are pushed out of schools and into prisons where they learn criminal behavior. I see the agitation welling on his face. I continue, “They are not inherent criminals. That is why I always talk to young people and play Sunday morning football with them at the nearby park.”

My neighbor responds, “Jerome, that is the kind of attitude that is not good. I am talking, but you are all nonchalant about the matter. You are all intellectual and everything, but these same people will break into your house and rape your wife!” I immediately say, “Man, don’t use that example. You are provoking fear.”My wife hears the conversation and attempts to diffuse tension. Then my neighbor points his finger at my wife, and we quickly tell him to remove it. I knew that if I had fully engaged him, the situation could have escalated. We politely lead him out the door.

My thoughts go to Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Michael Brown. How George Zimmerman profiled Trayvon, instigated a confrontation, and then killed him. How Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson profiled Michael, possibly instigated a confrontation, and then killed him. And I think about how my 11-year-old son, like many young black males, might get profiled. That is the attitude that kills young black people.

On the drive home, my children and I ride past Little Five Points, an artsy section of Atlanta. Young white males with tattoos and piercings walk the streets, smoking cigarettes and drinking. No one accosts them; no one harasses them; fortunately, no one kills them.

The words of the freedom fighter Ella Baker come to mind: “Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”

Jerome E. Morris is an education professor at the University of Georgia.

 


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