Forum seeks ‘common ground’

Community members gathered at Northern Kentucky University last week to discuss the heated topic of race-relations. The gathering was an effort of the Neighbor to Neighbor Community Conversations on Race, sponsored by The Enquirer,, and more than 100 other organizations.

The idea behind the initiative is to get community members together in small groups to discuss issues of local racial tension, specifically, what the problems are, what should be done about them, and what action each person can take.

The organizers of the Neighbor to Neighbor conversations hope to hold a forum in each village, township, and city neighborhood.

NKU was host to one of the first of more than 100 planned meetings in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area.

More than 30 NKU students, faculty, and community members were present for the discussion. Volunteer facilitators directed the conversation, although often times their voices were lost among the rumble of the participants.

Facilitators tried to enforce that the object of these gatherings was to find common ground that could be a basis for improving race-relations, but had to reiterate that point several times as people tried to point fingers and place blame instead.

The format of the discussion group centered around prepared handouts that outlined three perspectives and related approaches to improving race-relations.

The first of these approaches is to look beyond race and ethnicity. This plan focuses on what brings people together rather than what keeps them apart. It suggests seeing things as they are, not in terms of race and ethnicity, and giving everyone a fair and equal chance, treating all people equally.

The second approach is to build self-identity first. This means realizing that this country is multi-cultural and will always be this way. It supports the idea of allowing small communities to be inclusive and to set their own course, and accept that this will lead to some segregation.

This approach assumes that if people are allowed to function as they like in small groups, there will be less tension as there will be no need to interact with those different from them.

The third approach is to open all doors to everyone. This approach does not accept separatism, especially on the basis of race and ethnicity. It calls for an active attempt to eliminate all segregation in all aspects of life.

The task of the discussion group was to talk through each of these approaches, noting the benefits and downfalls of each.

Of the first approach, the general consensus was that it was unrealistic. One participant noted, “I don’t think people can look beyond race and ethnicity.”

Many group members felt the concept of building self-identity first was beneficial because it allows for differences and empowerment within communities, and builds self-esteem.

Then there were others who felt the segregation it promoted was far more detrimental to society than its benefits.

The last of the three approaches seemed to be generally agreed upon as the most realistic of all. Openess among all people could lead to elimination of stereotypes as people come together and talk about their differences.

The group saw the main problem with this idea being that a majority of participants could not foresee the public having the decency to be “humane” enough to take the initiative to get together with others unlike themselves.

Concluding the meeting, participants came up with a list of actions the people at this meeting could take to improve race-relations today. The list featured about 20 different suggestions.

A vote was then taken and the group came to the conclusion to not be silent to racism, but rather to stand up and not let racism happen to them.