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Town Hall Meetings Encourage Constructive Dialogue On Race

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

Race has always been a very complex and persistent presence in the cultural, social, economic and political DNA of the United States during its 240-year evolution.
It may foster either great love and pride or cancerous angst, violence, debate and confusion, in the body of a nation which has a spectrum of blood strains from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Deportation of illegal immigrants, prevention of Syrian refugees in our country, and closing our borders dominate the debate among those seeking the Republican nomination for President. Race and ethnicity which have always been a part of the American political system loom largely in the 2016 presidential race.

The staff of the WHRV FM-89.5 weekly radio program, “Another View” has been hosting a series of town hall meetings since last fall, featuring a panel discussing various aspects of the issue of race.
According to Lisa Godley, the co-producer of Another View and the “Race: Let’s Talk About It” town hall meetings, the next gathering will be “We the People: Race and Politics in America” on Thursday February 4, 2016 at the Fort Monroe Theater, Fort Monroe, Hampton, Virginia.

Doors open at 6 p.m. and the discussion begins promptly at 6:30 p.m.
According to Godley, “Race: Let’s Talk About It” is an initiative in partnership with Virginia Wesleyan’s Center for the Study of Religious Freedom and the Fort Monroe Authority.
Godley said two previous gatherings have allowed people to challenge their perceptions and ideas about race, based on their personal and racial background and experiences.

“Even as an African-American female, I have discovered that people who look like me have different perceptions about race,” said Godley. “All we do is provide awareness about the differences, to allow people to come together, heal and discover more about the issue.”

Godley said during a previous forum, two White men challenged the idea of “White privilege” because they were not wealthy and had no political or social power.
But one of the panelists pointed out to them that it was not about power or money but the color of their skins and the privilege they enjoy because of it, compared to a Black man driving while Black and being pulled over because of racial profiling.

The issue of race and politics is a timely subject considering the contest being waged for the White House between the Democratic and Republican parties.

Often, people shy away from conversations about race because such conversations can be difficult to have.
Opinion polls show a growing divide when it comes to issues of race in this country. Some surveys show that America’s racial climate is worst now than it was when the country’s first Black president took office almost seven years ago!

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However, this growing separation is a strong indicator that conversations about race are needed more now than ever before and are the driving force behind the public radio’s series.

A distinguished panel conveys their views on the subject during the meeting which is moderated by Another View host and executive producer, Barbara Hamm Lee. The upcoming February town hall meeting will feature Michele Woods-Jones of the Hampton Unity Commission, Jonathan Zur from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, Hampton University Professor Eric Claville and Virginia Wesleyan Professor Mavel Velasco.
The first “Race: Let’s Talk About It” community forum was held at Virginia Wesleyan College during the annual “One Love” Festival.

The second forum on November 19 was at WHRO’s Public Media studios where a video presentation looked at how everyday people respond to situations where one race is given a pass while another is penalized simply because of skin color. It was called “Privilege, Power and Difference.”
Like all town halls in this series, the third one will be preceded by a discussion on an Another View radio program. The show broadcasts live at noon on WHRV 89.5FM. The series slated four town halls: two on the Southside, and two on the Peninsula at Fort Monroe.

“When you think about the history of race in America, it is not a love story. It is not an easy story. It’s a painful story,” said panelist Michele Woods-Jones. “These are very difficult topics and they’re multi-dimensional. Often when we talk about race, we talk about it without the understanding that we experience it through a wide variety of different lenses, based upon our experiences,” she added.

Woods-Jones goes on to say, “Not discussing this problem is destroying us. Every child who is left behind is a loss to this country. The deficit models in which we communicate get in our way of being truly the best we can be in all of the various arenas.”

Shannon Bowman, Social Media Editor at WHRO, said, “Throughout Another View’s seven-year history, the staff has worked diligently to provide an open and safe environment for productive conversations about our differences. We believe, and listener feedback confirms, that such conversations are key to developing a better understanding of one another. The four community conversations are yet another way to allow these needed talks to continue.

“The idea is that knowledge brings about understanding which results in a better environment for everyone. We believe that the “Race: Let’s Talk About it” can start a chain reaction to bring about change.
Eric Claville added, “I believe if we can solve the race problem here in America, we can solve the race problem around the world.”

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