Sunday, March 23, 2003

Blackwell speaks out at 'Language of Race' forum

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer


Cincinnati's racial problems aren't unique, Ohio's secretary of state says.

"What we have in Cincinnati is what is happening across the globe - the deterioration of respect and a lack of appreciation that there is a human quest to be free," J. Kenneth Blackwell said during the Language of Race Conferenceon Saturday at Christ Church Cathedral downtown.

After years of racial tension in Cincinnati, things boiled over in April 2001 - when Cincinnati police shot and killed an unarmed man in an Over-the-Rhine alley. The city then suffered its worst riots since 1968.

A year later, the city entered into two legal settlements that ended a Department of Justice investigation into the Police Department and suspended the racial-profiling lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Black United Front, which accused police of harassing and targeting African-Americans for decades.

Four parties were involved in the historic collaborative agreement, signed last year, that calls for sweeping reforms of the Police Department - the city, the police union, the Cincinnati Black United Front and African-American community members, and the Department of Justice. Last week the Black United Front pulled out of that collaborative.

The city continues to suffer under the 20-month-old economic boycott launched by activist and ministerial groups.

"A lot has been focused on how to tackle the problems in Cincinnati legally or through legislative properties," Blackwell said. "But what (the conference) focuses on is meaningful conversation that leads to meaningful action that leads to meaningful change."

Merelyn B. Bates-Mims of East Walnut Hills coordinated the event, the last of three such seminars.

"In a world where there is war - and even in our city, where things seem about to rupture - any bit of honest conversation taking place anywhere is important," she said. "One drop changes the ocean."

A panel discussion concluded the daylong event. Participants included Judge Richard Cole of Cincinnati; Robert Louis Caldwell Jr., founder of a faith-based social service organization in Columbus; Michael Florez, Cincinnati attorney; Kenneth Lawson, Cincinnati attorney; Fred McGavran, Cincinnati attorney; and V. Anthony Simms-Howell, commissioner for the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs and Cincinnati business owner.

Blackwell, a former mayor of Cincinnati, said the Tristate should concentrate on the same three areas that the Rev.. Martin Luther King Jr. focused on - the streets, courts and hearts of men and women.

"We need to spend some time trying to affect the human heart when it comes to matters of race, because that brings more lasting change than spending so much time in the courts," he said.

The seminar is just one of many outreach events sponsored by Christ Church Cathedral, 318 E. Fourth St.

"It's given me a better perspective on the situation in Cincinnati in terms of what people are trying to do for race reconciliation," said seminar attendee Robert Florstedt of Columbus.

This was a step in the right direction, Blackwell agreed.

"So many people during this time of controversy and great challenge have retreated to the sidelines as though improving relations in this city is a spectator sport, like watching the Reds or the Bengals," he said.

"But change can happen even in an intimate setting like this - it doesn't require a great number of people."


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