By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Some University of Cincinnati students got answers Friday to questions they had about the 19-month-old boycott against the city.
About 50 students and residents came to UC's Zimmer Hall to listen to a panel discussion involving boycotters and city and state leaders. The forum, sponsored by UC's Student Government, was held in response to filmmaker Spike Lee's cancellation of a Black History Month speech on campus.
The diverse audience listened intently for more than two hours as panelists from both sides answered pointed questions about the boycott and actions city leaders have taken to address issues of inequality in Cincinnati. The panel included state Rep. Tyrone Yates, D-Cincinnati; City Councilman David Pepper; Victoria Straughn, chairwoman of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Justice; Juleana Frierson, chief of staff for the Cincinnati Black United Front; and Monica Williams, a member of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati.
The Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Black United Front, attended the meeting for about an hour, but did not sit on the panel.
Many students said they came to learn more about the boycott. Others expressed disappointment that decision-makers such as Mayor Charlie Luken were unavailable for the event.
Jason Dunn, a 24-year-old senior, said he was there simply for clarity. "From my view, this is just an information meeting because the folks who can really make the decisions about how to resolve this aren't here," he said.
"I think it is important for students to know the issues because this is the second or third time someone has canceled on us."
UC has had three well-known African-American entertainers pull out of performances during the past nine months. In April, hip-hop star Wyclef Jean canceled a concert at UC's Shoemaker Center.
Ed Gordon, a former NBC correspondent and host of BET Tonight with Ed Gordon, was tapped last month to replace Lee and moderate the forum, but postponed his appearance after organizers were unable to get top city and boycott leaders to commit to the event. Gordon honored the boycott last year by canceling a July 12 appearance at UC's 13th annual African-American Leadership Conference.
"You ask, `Why do this?' Because there was nothing else we could do," Frierson told the audience. "We protested, we marched, we demonstrated and we filed class action lawsuits, but nothing had changed in the city."
Pepper told the audience that city officials have been working diligently to address many of the disparities that exist in the city, but not because of the boycott. He pointed to positive moves such as hiring a new city manager, creating a summer jobs program for youth and reforming patterns and practices in the Cincinnati Police Department.
"Many of these changes began before the boycott," Pepper said. "Have we solved everything? Clearly not. Have we set out in a new direction? I think we have."
Yates challenged city leaders to end the boycott by dealing with its organizers. He also challenged boycotters to streamline their demands.
Pepper said he doesn't believe the boycott can be resolved because its ends are unclear and its demands fluid.
"The boycott is a tool being used to whop the city over the head," said Straughn. "It will be in effect until we see, feel and taste some tangible change in this city."
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