Saturday, March 02, 2002

Christian group to avoid city's racial tensions

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A 600-delegate African-American church group holding a convention downtown this week announced Friday it won't return until Cincinnati takes steps to improve a simmering racial climate.

        The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Women's Missionary Council said it would have relocated this week's convention to Indianapolis if it had not previously signed a contract with the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Fifth Street. It decided not to cancel out of fear of economic reprisals and a lawsuit.

        “We won't consider any more (conventions) until something happens in this city,” Bishop Nathaniel Linsey said. “We have to hit where it hurts, and that's the pocketbook.”

        Earlier this week, the 37,000-member Ohio Civil Service Employees Association confirmed it dropped plans to book a 2005 meeting in Cincinnati.

        Targeting conventions is part of a two-pronged strategy pressed by the Black United Front and Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, two groups seeking to improve racial and economic disparities in Cincinnati.

        The coalition counted as victories the cancellation of concerts scheduled by jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and R&B groups Temptations and O'Jays. Actor-comedian Bill Cosby was the first entertainer to back out of a performance in Cincinnati under the boycott.

        Black United Front President the Rev. Damon Lynch III isn't surprised by the seven-month boycott's momentum and national attention.

        On Friday, national civil rights figure Al Sharpton called the Rev. Mr. Lynch to get an update on the boycott, the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. The Rev. Mr. Sharpton plans a trip in Cincinnati in the next two weeks to encourage change in the city.

        “It's just the sentiment of a lot of people in the African-American community that have been fed up for awhile,” said the Rev. Mr. Lynch.

        Officials for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau expressed disappointment that the Christian Methodist Episcopal group intends to avoid the city.

        “We would certainly go after them again,” said Julie Harrison, bureau spokeswoman. “I think we did our job in terms of delivering what we promised them.”

        Bishop Linsey, whose office is in Walnut Hills, said his church hasn't scheduled an annual convention beyond 2003 when the group will meet in Charlotte, N.C. If not for the boycott, Cincinnati would have been a contender for 2004 and beyond.

        The group brought 1,500 conventioneers to Cincinnati in 1997, generating a $1.29 million economic impact.

        Bishop Linsey singled out Mayor Charlie Luken as a key person who can end the boycott.

        “The mayor has the power now to make the right decisions,” Bishop Linsey said. “We gave him the power.”

        Bishop Linsey wants Mr. Luken to appoint a committee to negotiate the demands of boycott organizers and racial issues.

        He said the Cincinnati CAN commission hasn't made any significant, lasting changes.


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