Ferndale Comes Together to Talk about Race

GallowayCollensTOPsunsetREVISEDFerndale lisa schmidt lawComes Together to Talk about Race

(Crystal A. Proxmire, July 12, 2016)

Ferndale, MI –  At a time of social tension around divisive national politics and grief over recent fatal shootings of black men by police, and fatal shootings of police officers in the line of duty, many are finding it a challenge to talk about the issues, let alone know how to solve them.

“I feel like if you say ‘black lives matter’ it means you are anti-police, or if you support police you must be racist. Like you can’t support both,” said one of the participants in a community-wide discussion on race, diversity and conflict resolution hosted Monday by the Ferndale Rotary at Twisted Tavern in blumz07Ferndale.

Rotary International has conflict resolution as a focus in their work around the world.  At the Ferndale group there seemed to be a need for a safe place to start the conversation.  So Rotary President Jodi Knittel and fellow board members decided to open their meeting up for a facilitated discussion about the sometimes uncomfortable topic of race.

Ferndale Police Chief Timothy Collins and the Community Engagement Officer Sgt. Baron Brown attended.  Chief Collins said that statistics show that diversifying the police force and diversity training do not make as much of a difference as having a good relationship between the police force and the community.  “We want to rebuild a level of trust in the community and that’s why I’m here,” he said.lynn_stange_03

Attorney Lisa Schmidt who serves on the Board of the ACLU of Michigan read a definition of “Institutionalized racism” and talked about how race-based issues of the past (slavery, segregation, profiling) have also contributed to a culture that can be insular in police forces.  Schmidt was clear that she was not talking about any department in particular, and was hopeful, like Chief Collins was, in increasing the connections between the police and the public.

Participants sat at tables of six and talked about why they were there, and what ways had they participated in institutionalized racism personally, then at the end some people shared their reactions with the group.

“Prejudice does exists.  It is real,” said one frustrated person wanted to know Pledge_side_bluemore about how to talk about racism to others. Other feelings shared are similar to those felt around the country.

“I want to make a difference but I don’t know how.”

“I work with youth and we have these conversations daily now it seems.”

“There are individuals who are in one culture who are fearful to talk to someone in another culture.”

“I don’t have any people of color in my circle of friends.”

“I have a hard time talking to people I don’t know, and I don’t know what we might have in common.”

About 45 people, about 85% white, had a chance to connect and open up garden16_barbara_gulleyabout race.  Ferndale Rotary is hosting another meeting to delve deeper into the subject, with the date to be determined.  Another Ferndale group, Citizens for Fair Ferndale, has a race and diversity committee which has also sprouted a Race and Culture Book Club.

Learn more about Citizens for Fair Ferndale at www.fairferndale.org.

Learn more about Ferndale Rotary at http://www.ferndalerotary.com/.

Keep up with the latest events at http://oaklandcounty115.com/events/.

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