Friday, September 07, 2001

Televised talks take steps in exploring racial divide

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        More than 700 people met in barbershops, schools, YMCAs and other Cincinnati locales Thursday night to talk openly and honestly about race relations.

        They were prompted by a televised broadcast from the downtown studios of WCET (Ch. 48), where a capacity crowd of 75 people led the discussion on what has been called the biggest issue facing the city.

[photo] Mike Kernish (left) and Moses Johnson watched at the University Heights YMCA.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        And while comments dealt mostly with perceptions among races, the issues were anything but black and white.

        They talked about slavery. About institutional racism. About home ownership rates. About bank loans. About schools. And about how race and racism has affected some without ever being noticed by others.

        “White people don't have their color of their skin as a problem, and I am very embarrassed by the comments I've heard from the panelists who refused to acknowledge that,” Julie Morin of Clifton said after watching the broadcast. Called Common Ground: Working for Change, the broadcast featured a panel of community leaders and media representatives who discussed race relations in the Tristate.

        It was the first live, simulcast and online broadcast of a town meeting on race in Cincinnati's history to feature many participants from various locations.

        But several people said the broadcast was harmed by a reliance on too many pre-recorded interviews.

        “As soon as real types of conversation began, they were halted,” said Valarie Boykins of College Hill.

        “I thought they needed more audience participation.”

        Anthony Moses Johnson put it another way.

        “I think the show sucked,” the 44-year-old Walnut Hills poet said.

    The town meetings are a joint effort of local media, operating together in what is called the Cincinnati Media Collaborative. It is one of the most broad-based media partnerships in the country, involving TV, radio, cable, print and Web-based organizations. The collaborative is endorsed by the Media, Communication and Cultural Change Team, part of Cincinnati Community Action Now.
   • WCET (Ch. 48)
   • WCPO (Ch. 9)
   • WKRC (Ch. 12)
   • WXIX (Ch. 19)
   • WLWT (Ch. 5)
   • WSTR (Ch. 64)
   • The Cincinnati Herald
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Magazine
The Cincinnati Post
The Business Courier
City Beat
• The Community Press newspapers
   • Time Warner Cable
   • WGUC (FM 90.9)
   • WNKU (FM 89.7 )
   • WVXU
   • Clear Channel radio
   • Infinity Broadcasting
   • WIZF (100.9 FM) “The Wiz”
   • WDBZ (1230 AM) “The Buzz”
   • WRRM ( 98 FM) “Warm 98”
   • WMOJ (94.9 FM) “Mojo”
   • J4 Broadcasting
   • WCIN (1480 AM)
   • Media Bridges Cincinnati
   • CitiCable
   • Cincinnati.Com.
        “We all know there's a problem. That's why we're here. These types of dialogues are just designed to pacify us from the powers that be.” The broadcast, the first in a series of televised town meetings are a joint effort of local media called the Cincinnati Media Collaborative, which includes The Cincinnati Enquirer.

        “We tried our best and we plan to learn from it,” said WCETpresident Susan Howarth. “It was our first production and it really was an experiment.”

        At one of the so-called “watch parties,” at the Great Oaks Instructional Resources Center in Sharonville, 75-year-old Emily Spicer talked about growing up black in the West End and experiencing enough blatant racism to have made her very bitter, but instead she wants to respect others and be respected in return.

        “I try to bring the best of myself, my care of people, to any table,” she said.

        Dawn Trammell, who is white, said she hasn't experienced racism firsthand but was at the watch party because “I'm a bit of everybody that I've met.”

        The Lakota Schools Building in West Chester there were 23 watch party participants.

        Carl Satterwaite, an African-American businessman, said friction between the races can be helped by broader job opportunities via better public transportation from the city to the suburbs.

        At a watch party in University Heights, Brandi Sinkfield, a 22-year-old college student from Glendale, said: “I hope everyone here leaves with a sense of what I can do, not we. Let's talk about "we' after each of us does what they can do as individuals.”

    An online race-relations chat to continue the discussion from Thursday night's Common Ground forum will be at noon today.
    To chat: Log onto Cincinnati.Com at noon.
    • Eric Ellis, facilitator, “Common Ground” show, president and CEO of Integrity Development Inc.
    • Chip Harrod, executive director, National Conference for Community and Justice.
    • Carolyn Edwards, Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.
    • Cheryl Nunez, director of affirmative action, Northern Kentucky University.
        The watch parties were limited to about 25 people each.

        Plans for watch parties in certain outlying communities — Blue Ash, Madeira, Anderson Township, Kenwood, Pleasant Ridge and in Northern Kentucky — were canceled for lack of interest.

        “People think the issues we are dealing with are downtown issues or city issues,” said Damon Jones, a Procter & Gamble employee who helped organize the watch parties.

        Most were organized by Cincinnati Community Action Now, a task force on race relations that Mayor Charlie Luken established following April's riots.

        Outside the WCET studio, about a dozen protesters held up “No Justice, No Peace” signs. The protesters, mostly white adults, said they belong to various groups that have formed an umbrella group called Coalition for Justice.

        They said they were excluded from the WCET discussions so there would be issues that would not be raised. Many said they support boycotting downtown Cincinnati businesses.

        “We don't see anything changing,” said Bob Park, a Cincinnatiresident. “The police department is the same guys, and there are all the underlying economic issues.”

        Inside the studio, moderator Eric Ellis told the audience to initially talk about what they're thinking or feeling, not ask questions.

        “We are not going to resolve all of our issues tonight,” he said. “That's where we move forward.'

        Mr. Ellis, president and CEO of Integrity Development in West Chester, a consultant on cultural diversity management, said the show would have two impacts.

        “There will be the pundits who criticize the program and, secondly, it will move some people to act in ways that will help us to find common ground.”

        The collaborative idea germinated shortly after riots — the worst in 30 years — broke out after the police shooting death of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed man who was fleeing police in Over-the-Rhine April 7.

        But even before the riots, many African-Americans had complained about poor treatment by police and had joined in a federal lawsuit against the city that accuses the police division of racial profiling. The city's police division also is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

        During and after the broadcast, more than 581 people called a phone bank to volunteer time to local causes.

        Daniel Hoffheimer, of the law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister, was one panel member who talked about the need to be upfront about race conflicts.

        “Racism is the last great unfinished business of this country,“ Mr. Hoffheimer said. “We've got to fix it.”

       Enquirer reporters Amy Higgins, Kevin Aldridge, Walt Schaefer and Randy Tucker contributed to this story.


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