Thursday, February 28, 2002

Unity Week

Teens have right idea for April

        Cincinnati needs a day of healing, a time for a new beginning, a place for unity.

        How about 10 a.m. April 6 on Fountain Square?

        That's where and when the main rally begins for Unity Week.

        The Fountain Square event aims to bring the city together. And remind everyone to think beyond last year's April riots.

        Unity Week's activities are not being organized or orchestrated by politicians in City Hall.

        The work's being done by a core of 70 dedicated students from 10 Greater Cincinnati high schools. They're backed by the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission.

        Valeisa George, the commission's youth specialist, came up with the idea of Unity Week as a teen project.

        “The kids are focusing on bringing the city back together,” she told me.

        “They decided, "adults can't do it. So we'll do it for them.'”

        Makes sense to me.

        Adults have thoroughly messed up the issue of race in Cincinnati. When they try to end the boycott, improve police-community relations or change the police force, they come to the negotiating table lugging old baggage. Prejudice. Power plays. Egos. Scores to settle.

        Teen-agers don't tote those bags. They travel light. They don't dwell on the past. What happened last April is not as important as what will happen this April and many Aprils to come.

        That's the forward-thinking wonder of youth. If Cincinnati can adopt that mind-set, the city can have — as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address envisioned for all of America — “a new birth of freedom.”

Perfect timing

        The Fountain Square event will feature school bands, drill teams, choirs, cheerleaders and a speechmaker or two. It's the week's focal point.

        Unity Week kicks off April 1. Students working on the project will march for their cause in the Reds' Opening Day parade.

        Unity rallies will be held in neighborhoods April 2-5. The week ends with an April 7 prayer vigil going from District 1 police headquarters to Over-the-Rhine's Washington Park.

        The timing for Unity Week is perfect. The city hopes to adopt the Justice Department's recommendations for improving the police department by April 1. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott imposed an April 5 deadline to conclude negotiations aimed at settling a racial-profiling lawsuit.

        April 7 marks the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Timothy Thomas. Anger over his death started the riots April 9.

        Unity Week is wise to start before April 7. The timing does not make a martyr out of Timothy Thomas. That would insult his memory and law-abiding citizens of Cincinnati.

        The Unity Week events don't look back on the riots. Unrest is a negative. Unity Week stresses the positive.

Seek help

        Teen-agers are smart enough to pull off Unity Week by themselves. But they still could use some help.

        Adults could arrange with downtown churches, the Verdin Bell Co. and Newport's World Peace Bell to have a ring-in for unity. Sound the bells at high noon April 6.

        Those teen-age ambassadors for unity should talk with Judge Dlott. Maybe she could instruct lawyers involved in the racial-profiling suit's mediation to have their clients endorse Unity Week. And attend the events.

        She might even be able to find some money, through federal channels or local benefactors, to help finance Unity Week.

        These avenues are worth pursuing, even if they involve contact with adults. Grown-ups may not know how to get along. But they want unity, too.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; by fax at 768-8340; or e-mail at


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