Home Diocesan News ACTION discussion brings warnings about ‘racist’ current events
ACTION discussion brings warnings about ‘racist’ current events Print E-mail
Written by Karen Kastner, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 30 June 2017 14:32

YOUNGSTOWN – The persistence of racism and ways to address it were the subject of lively discussion in a June 12 forum sponsored by ACTION at the DeYor Performing Arts Center here.

Along the way, many speakers issued caveats about current events that they said connote racism at various levels of government and quasi-government activity.

The forum was organized by the racism committee of ACTION – the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods – a coalition of faith-based and community groups committed to raising awareness and seeking solutions to overcome poverty, racism, and social injustice.

In introductions, Jacquie Hays, a local evangelist and ACTION board treasurer, said she is sure that by truly listening at this event and other related events, participants would be “moved into holy action.”

Dr. Anne York Romanoff, a retired Youngstown State University history professor who is also on the forefront of ACTION, contended that racism is problematical in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

Racism, she explained, can be individual, interpersonal (expressed), and, lastly, institutional/structural, the latter taking the forms of housing discrimination, police brutality and the like.

Two representatives of the Youngstown Diocese – Father Ed Brienz, director of Café Augustine in Youngstown and diocesan missions director, and Adrienne Curry, social action director for Catholic Charities – discussed what the local Catholic Church and its faithful are doing about this pervasive problem.

“The cornerstone of Catholic social teaching is the principle of the dignity of the human person,” Curry pointed out. “We are all made in the image and likeness of God. Racism is an affront to that dignity.”

She went on to say that most people “do not want to talk about racism or only want to talk about it on a surface level … Blacks are not denying that it [racism] exists. They are tired of talking about it.”

As with many panelists, Father Brienz emphasized the “importance of listening” to others’ points of view. After a trip to New Orleans several years ago, he recalled that diocesan representatives opened the Café Augustine, 3730 Market St., so that disadvantaged teens could experience hands-on work.

Located in, but independent of, the Newport branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and the Mahoning County, the café is intended as a starting point to their careers and their interaction with diverse groups.

“Young people, in many cases, don’t know how to dream,” said Father Brienz of the café’s mission. “They’re scared of social situations where they don’t know what’s coming at them.”

He said he hopes that efforts like Café Augustine, in addition to giving young people work skills, will also help them gain confidence for whatever they face in life.

To lighten the mood and promote the restaurant, Father Brienz smiled widely as he told the crowd, “We accept MasterCard, Visa and American Express. Come support the kids!”

Many speakers argued that major problems associated with racism are perpetuated in politics today.

“Racism in the Ohio General Assembly is alive and well,” stated Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-58th District. She said conservative members of the legislature have been reducing important funding for education which disproportionately affects minorities.

Additionally, she said lack of state funding has caused “food deserts” – neighborhoods such as downtown Youngstown, which lack full-service grocery stores – and a shortage of public transportation in Mahoning County.

“Republicans are introducing bills that shut people out of the American dream. None of them think they are racist,” she observed. The solution? “We have to say something to make them embarrassed.”

Leigh Greene, community organizer for the Greater Youngstown Community Dialogue on Racism that is sponsoring events with ACTION, warned against GOP changes proposed for the Affordable Care Act. In addition, she touched on the widely debated requirement for IDs for Ohio Food Stamp recipients.

Gary Davenport, an ACTION community activist, opined: “America was forged in slavery and servitude,” pointing to Jim Crow laws aimed at enforcing racial segregation [from the end of the country’s Reconstruction in 1877 until the civil rights movement in the 1950s], as well as the substantial increase, in the 20th century, in the number of incarcerated individuals, primarily minorities.

The goal for the country is often “making money” at the expense of “the poorest and darkest” among us, with “the people at the top controlling the economy,” Davenport argued.

As panelists fielded questions from the audience, Curry sparked a debate when asked if African Americans can be racist. She answered: “A black person cannot be racist because we do not have the power.” However, she and others on the panel said that blacks – and most people – can be biased or prejudiced.

Many seized the opportunity to disagree with her statement about racism.

Darian Rushton of the local Veterans Administration replied: “I disagree. You cannot tell me I do not have power, therefore, I cannot be racist.” Earlier, Rushton had said he had not experienced much racism in his local neighborhood as a child, but has since experienced it actively in college and in the workplace, both also local.

R. Douglas King, a community activist, said, “Any person can be racist. It’s about the attitude you have in your head.” He explained that African Americans are “so indoctrinated with white ideology that they [have] taken on a white consciousness.”

Curry said she was encouraged by the discussion and the fact that there is talk about similar forums in Warren and elsewhere. “This is not a one-and-done situation. They are continuing the conversation.”


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