A "Race for Excellence" in Macon, Ga.
Matthew Jackson Michael
August 2, 2008
The Macon Telegraph
Macon is a vibrant and diverse city wedged between the absence of some negative force and the presence of some positive force. Far from marching upon a crumbled foundation, Central Georgians stand at a pivotal point in their rich history.
Fueled by "A Conversation on Race" held at the Douglass Theatre last November where more than 400 people gathered to discuss issues of race, Central Georgia is ready to responsibly address its role as a healthy and fully integrated community.
Addressing personal learning: Central Georgia gathered
The Center for Racial Understanding, founded in 2003, is shepherding Central Georgians in the transition from the absence of negative force to the presence of positive force. The center's mission to "remove race as an impediment to economic, political, social and educational progress, while creating a climate of trust, respect, knowledge and awareness among all people," hopes to guide Central Georgia through the healing process.
Focused upon three steps or prongs, the first step for concerned citizens is to engage in personal learning. Although the Civil Rights Movement altered the social climate, a long path toward healing remains. Personal learning is essential in respectfully healing racial wounds.
The second step is to become involved through public engagement. The center has organized public forums, led intensive study circles, and developed many public committees and strategies to discuss race. Future events are in planning that will further affect those who choose to participate.
The third step seeks to dismantle the inequalities that remain. Difficult for many to admit, inequalities and stigmas still exist some 40 years beyond the powerful movement that granted equality for all citizens. We are still learning how to serve one race without antagonizing another and achieve a united sense of belonging.
These three steps are organized into the center's three prong approach - addressing personal learning, organizing public engagement to reconcile social divisions and dismantling structural inequities.
Seeking to link honesty to understanding, word to deed and person to person, the center is committed to creating a climate where socially-conscious Central Georgians can engage in honest conversations about race.
"Conversations about race which can touch on issues of power and privilege, fear and anger, hope and despair can be difficult," said CRU Executive Director Barbara Yancey. "Yet, these conversations are well worth the effort and can be powerful forces to create understanding, trust, respect and insight that lead to change."
Public engagement: Community study circles
The need for the Center's efforts has been realized in the success of the recent study circles, entitled "Dialogue to Action: Promoting Racial Harmony and Understanding." Over 150 participants, broken into 11 groups, committed to a six week program from February to March that addressed the progression of racial harmony in Central Georgia.
Camilla Dawson co-facilitated a study circle with Pamela Richardson. "I was inspired by the 'together we can' slogan while working on Mayor Robert Reichert's campaign," Dawson noted. "There at campaign headquarters I met Barbara Yancey. After the election, Barb asked me to facilitate a study circle, and I was most pleased to do it."
Dawson's and Richardson's study circle grew each week, beginning with eight participants and ending with 16. As a result of their group's interaction, three main initiatives of public engagement were spawned.
In an effort to carry forward the message with action, they pledged to both refrain from committing racial slurs and to challenge those who commit slurs in their presence. Perhaps this sounds like a simple pledge, but it forces convictions to be demonstrated. Think of close friends, superiors and family members who would require such confrontation - a difficult task that demands conviction.
A second result was the development of power partners. Convicted by the lack of bi-racial social groups, they committed to form a partnership and genuine friendship with a person of another race in hopes of visualizing the conviction of integration.
A quick survey of churches, work environments and other social settings reveals racial pockets in Central Georgia; there are places black people tend to gather, places white people tend to gather and few places of interaction.
Last, as a result of the study circle, a new initiative was formed. A "Race for Excellence" was developed in cooperation with the center to help diversify projects already working in Central Georgia. With the goal of defining and embodying excellence, the "race" will supply tools to support integration and racial equality in community events.
As the name dictates, Central Georgians are working together in a race toward excellence. This is not a one-person race, but one that relies on the participation of the community.
"Those who participated found the study circles to be informative, enlightening and beneficial," said Yancey. "Many group members wanted to continue meeting with their group in some form or fashion and created bonding relationships." A reuniting of the study group participants is currently planned for Sept. 25.
Dismantling structural inequalities: A call to action
Macon is led by a mayor dedicated to the city and to helping lead the charge of the center, steered by a group committed to revitalizing downtown and occupied by a diverse people with much to offer.
As a resident for nearly 30 years, never before have I seen our community perched so tightly to a fence that on one side lies mediocrity and on the other lies a thriving community of involved citizens.
Progress is not made by a handful of committee members, but rather by the concerted efforts of proud city residents. The great potential of Central Georgia hinges upon the tangible evidence of citizens absorbed by good will, charity and conviction.
The Center for Racial Understanding is structured by Yancey, administrative assistant Pamela Alston, an executive committee and a board of directors. With the determined efforts of more than 40 people, the center is a vibrant organization working on behalf of Middle Georgia. For more information on the center, visit the Web site at www.crumacon.org or call the downtown office at 478-744-2455.
Matthew Jackson Michael is staff writer and executive committee member for the Center for Racial Understanding. He may be reached at matthewjmichael@ gmail.com.
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