Blacksburg community summit to address race relations
A community summit in Blacksburg this weekend will address a problem that remains a concern for many Montgomery County citizens — race relations.
A Dialogue on Race will be held Saturday at the Blacksburg Community Center and will focus on what it means to be an African-American in Montgomery County.
Plans for the summit have been in motion for about three years, according to Penny Franklin, a member and co‑founder of the Community Group, formed about a decade ago to enhance and advance African-American participation in the county’s civic development.
Franklin said events such as the election of the United States’ first African-American president, Barack Obama, and the appointment of Montgomery County’s first African-American superintendent, Tiffany Anderson, sparked discussion within the group about the issues they experience in the community as black citizens.
From the Community Group, a Dialogue on Race Committee was formed to find viable ways to put these issues out on the table, Franklin said.
“You have to talk about it [race relations] and talk about it with the community at large at some point,” Franklin said.
“For some reason, race is so difficult to talk about.”
In late 2011, a group of about 25 African-American citizens gathered for the first discussion. For hours, they talked about racial issues, such as jobs and employment, education, white privilege and perceptions, and income gap.
They also gathered data. They met three more times through February 2012. It took several months for the committee to regroup, but when they did, they decided the next step should be to meet and share their results with the larger community, and they began planning Saturday’s event.
The main objective of the summit is to develop an approach to guide participants in resolving some of the racial problems, such as the lack of visibility of African-Americans in Montgomery County jobs, including law enforcement, Franklin said. Participants will be broken up into groups to discuss six different issues categorized by the committee.
“This is not a threatening event,” Franklin said. “We’re not pointing fingers. We need to talk to each other, plain and simple.”
Dick Kates, president of the Montgomery Council on Human Relations, which is helping co-sponsor the summit, said he believes there are misconceptions about race, and he hopes through the summit he can gain a better understanding of what those problems are and be a part of the solution.
“We who are white think that things have gotten better. … We tend to assume that it has,” Kates said. “Things aren’t better.”
The event will be facilitated by three community members, including Andy Morikawa, Jim Dubinsky and Wornie Reed, who sit on the Dialogue for Race Committee. Morikawa said the event will allow participants to spend time together, for the African-Americans attending to share their findings and then engage the broader community in planning and taking action.
“I’m feeling very positive about it,” Morikawa said.
Franklin said she hopes to see a diverse group attend.
“We need the Montgomery County citizens, African-American and white. … That’s a big part of this,” she said.
As an elected official, Christiansburg Mayor Richard Ballengee said he felt the community should be represented at the meeting, and he plans on attending. He said he is looking forward to hearing the identified concerns.
But for the event to be a success, the discussion must be an ongoing process, Franklin said. She hopes participants will gather on a regular basis after the summit to address any changes and progress they have experienced in the community.
She believes the event could even be a pilot program for other minority groups.
The summit will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is open to the public. Lunch will be served.
Those interested in attending should RSVP to Reed at firstname.lastname@example.org or 231-6107.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1679
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