Sunday, April 7, 2002

What institutions are doing

        Time after time during Neighbor to Neighbor conversations, people identified schools, churches and local government as the institutions best able to provide leadership and help residents find solutions to racial tension.

        The Enquirer asked the Rev. Duane Holm, director of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati, and Steven Adamowski, superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, to tell us what their institutions are doing to address these issues.

        In addition, Cincinnati City Manager Valerie Lemmie spoke Thursday to the Human Relations Commission's annual meeting. Much of what she said relates to Cincinnati's efforts to achieve racial harmony.

        Here are excerpts:

        Mr. Adamowski: What we do every day in the classrooms of Cincinnati Public Schools and as a district contributes to the future of race relations in our neighborhoods. Our focus is the education of children; we see that mission as the crux of efforts to erase racial tension.

        One of the most important ways to improve race relations and ensure equality of opportunities is to help young people move out of poverty.

        We are restructuring our high schools, creating inside our large neighborhood high-school buildings several smaller schools that offer an educational focus such as information technology or pre-engineering.

        We are redesigning our low-performing schools (seven redesigned so far). These are schools that don't move up from the lowest category of our School Accountability Plan, which measures student performance and improvement.

        We are giving our principals and teachers more decision-making power, more control over a school's budget and more opportunities to involve the community in a school's operation.

        We are funneling more resources to our neighborhood schools, which include our highest-poverty schools, to help boost student achievement.

        Efforts to improve racial understanding are part of what we do every day in Cincinnati Public Schools — threaded throughout our curriculum.

        For example, efforts over the past few years have put in our school libraries and on classroom reading lists more books with a multicultural emphasis. In both content and illustrations, these books — many by African-Americans authors — open the doors to cultural understanding with stories about children who live in a big city or who celebrate a family's African heritage.

        Our teachers take advantage of many opportunities for professional development to enhance their knowledge in multicultural areas. Our social studies teachers recently took a field trip to a museum in central Ohio to review information about America's civil rights movement.

        In addition, we are working diligently to assure that minority-owed businesses will have opportunities to participate in our 10-year plan to rebuild or renovate our school buildings.

        The unrest in our city and its aftermath remind us that, although the great civil rights battles of the 1950s and '60s may be behind us, we as a community still must work to ensure social justice and equity for all.

        Rev. Holm: The religious community responded initially to community/police problems. Clergy came to Over-The-Rhine in April and May to help channel & moderate the unrest.

        Congregational leaders prayed publicly. In the following months, some clergy worked on the Police action team of Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) to seek improvements. They participated in Study Circles (conversations focused on community/police relations) and pushed for a collaborative Process to improve community/police relations.

        The religious community has also been working on problems of race embedded in other systems of society. Some clergy have worked on other CAN action teams dealing with problems in education, jobs, housing, etc.

        Some regional denominations have organized programs about racism for their congregations. Some have participated in pulpit exchanges, or shared in partnering programs organized by Volunteers of America.

        The religious community can work on improving race relations at different levels: as members, congregations, neighborhood clusters, local judicatories, or interfaith coalitions like MARCC.

        This past year has made religious congregations and members more aware of race: of our shortcomings, our problems, and our opportunities. It has pushed us back to our roots — as children of the God who is the God of all other children, too.

        Ms. Lemmie: I was delighted to use your bully pulpit as my first because the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission has a solid track record of providing programs that promote community harmony, fairness and justice.

        During these challenging times, your role in providing leadership to the community is more important than ever. When people break down into sides, and finger-pointing replaces fact-finding, the Human Relations Commission must provide the direction and guidance needed to maintain community relations, dignity and civility. You must bring people back together again, even if at first they resist.

        Cincinnati clearly drew the nation's attention with the events of last spring. This spring offers hope for a new beginning. This spring, we will draw national attention again, only this time for the success we have embarked upon in working to meet our challenges.

        This year we want to be recognized for the galvanizing efforts taking place here — not the polarizing ones. We want to be recognized for our progress — not our protests. We want to be hailed for building bridges — not burning them.

        But most importantly, we want to be recognized as a community that heard the cry from its citizens for the need for real systemic, institutional change, and that with diligence, vigor, fortitude and determination we responded and we delivered.

        As stakeholders, we must direct and lead the process for change so that the progress of change can occur. Ghandi said we must be the change we want to see. This means that each and every one of us has a role to play. Real change engages not just institutions, but civil society.

        Today I issue a call to action.

        I implore you to take personal responsibility to make a difference, to give something back to the community that has nurtured you all these many years.

        Invite someone of color that you have always liked — and felt you had much in common with — but for unexplained reasons never invited them over to your house for dinner. Invite them now.

        Or take children down the street that you have seen in passing — and know have no adult at home when they return from school — to a movie, or bowling. Or invite them for bible study — with their parents' permission, of course. Or volunteer as a tutor or recreational leader at your local park this summer.

        If you are waiting to be asked, consider it done. If you're not sure what you can do, talk to the CHRC staff or volunteers. They have great ideas and opportunities that will assist you in finding your niche. Only with your continued diligence and your focus on the greater good, can Cincinnati face its current challenges, rise above, and retain its national prominence.

        It really does take a village to raise a child. So get involved! Make a difference!

The Police
- Violence up, arrests down
Changes made since April 2001
Q&A with Police Chief Streicher
Q&A with former F.O.P. president Keith Fangman

Neighbor to Neighbor
Community meetings produce results
Going beyond polite silence
What your neighbors said
What do you think?
What's happening in 145 communities
A sampling of communities:
Mount Healthy
Pleasant Ridge
- What institutions are doing

Related Links
Neighbor to Neighbor home page
Matters of Race: Bridging the divide in Greater Cincinnati
On the Same Page Cincinnati
Live Without Hate
Common Ground
Cincinnati 2001: Year of unrest
Unrest in the city: Archive of riot coverage
Unrest photo timeline
Jim Borgman on race

One Year Later
What were they thinking?
Too early to assess impact
Micheal Basnight's resolve
Violence part of life in OTR
CAN co-chair has no doubt
ACLU adds its Y-E-S to deal

Restaurant owner
Taft senior
Social worker
Sarah Center director
Jordanian grocer
Gallery owner
Beauty shop supplier
Teacher's aide
Dock worker
Police officer
Soup kitchen manager
School social worker
Medical student
Treatment counselor

Violence up, arrests down
Changes since April 2001
Q&A with Streicher
Q&A with Keith Fangman

Meetings produce results
Beyond polite silence
What your neighbors said
What do you think?
In your community
Mount Healthy
Pleasant Ridge
What institutions are doing

Neighbor to Neighbor
Matters of Race
On the Same Page
Live Without Hate
Common Ground
Year of unrest
Riot news archive
Unrest photos
Jim Borgman on race