Sunday, July 15, 2001

1st Unity Day will join diverse music, speeches, races

By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In a town where racial tensions can't get much higher, maybe things can begin to smooth out with a handshake and a smile.

        Cincinnati will get a chance to find out Monday during a lunchtime affair downtown.

Know someone who has successfully bridged the racial divide? Tell us about it.
        A group of Cincinnatians known as Changing Hearts and Minds has launched Greater Cincinnati's first Unity Day lunch at Fountain Square. The free event, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., is designed to help Cincinnatians put away the often complicated and convoluted conflicts about race to share a few simple niceties — a leisurely lunch, some good music, a friendly atmosphere.

        “It's not political. It's not governmental. It's just grass-roots,”organizer Louis C. Buschle said.

        “We're just trying to get people together. We're going where the symbol is an open handshake, a smile and a conversation.”

        To make sure everyone's in the mood, a diverse sampling of Cincinnati's sounds will be on hand. Taking the stage will be the Grammy-winning gospel choir Dr. Charles Fold and the Charles Fold Singers, the Over-the-Rhine Steel Drum Band and Wild Carrot.

        Sprinkled in between: talks by Mayor Charlie Luken, mayoral candidate and news personality Courtis Fuller and the Rev. Calvin Harper, leader of the Amos Project, an interfaith coalition of Christian congregations in the Cincinnati area.

        Master of ceremonies is Lionel Brown, assistant professor at University of Cincinnati and a former assistant superintendent with Cincinnati Public Schools.

        The 20 or so members of Changing Hearts believe there is a “silent majority” of Cincinnatians — black and white — whobridge the racial divide every day, Mr. Buschle said. And there are many more people who don't but would like to bridge it.

        Their voices of moderation and understanding usually get drowned out by the cacophony of the opinionated.

        “If we get people together, the vast and silent majority can get things accomplished ... whatever that is,” Mr. Buschle said.

        The noon rally, which is one of the central events of Cincinnati's Unity Day, will encourage people to “risk” sitting with someone who “doesn't look like them,” Mr. Buschle said, and perhaps exchange a unity pin. There are free black-and-white pins or $5 pewter ones.

        Maybe such small steps can lead to more significant ones, he said.

        Maybe a few friendly interactions can train us to transform events such as Riverfest, Taste of Cincinnati, Ujima Cinci-Bration and Jazz Fest, into great community-wide celebrations for all races, ethnicities and social persuasions.

        Maybe, Mr. Buschle says, we can all “get together, talk and be friends.”

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