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Everyday Democracy Civic Change Champion: Greater Youngstown Dialogue on Racism offers chance for Trust, Growth and Understanding

Author: 
Liz Dupont-Diehl
September 18, 2017

Civic Change Champions

Everyday Democracy announces a new award to recognize the work and achievements of our partners.

Civic Change ChampionWe will honor a Civic Change Champion – people and organizations whose work is bringing Everyday Democracy’s values of equity, voice, sharing power, and participation to life. Honorees will be announced on our web site. To nominate someone for recognition as a Civic Change Champion, please send your name and your nominee’s name, organization if applicable, address and website, and a short description of their work to Everyday Democracy’s Communications manager Rebecca Reynandez, rreyes@everyday-democracy.org.

Congratulations to Ed Weisheimer and Leigh Greene on being our first Civic Change Champions!

 

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO -- Ed Weisheimer and Leigh Greene talk about each other with the ease and familiarity of a happy long-married couple. They finish each others’ sentences and break in to give their partner credit. Affection is evident in their voices. Every conversation is punctuated with reminders of something to bring the next time they meet – which always seems soon.

Ed, who is a white man, is a retired pastor, and Leigh, who is a black woman, works as the Director of Minority Health for the City of Youngstown. They serve as co-chairs of the Greater Youngstown Community Dialogue on Racism, and are now engaged in recruiting people to take part in a Dialogue on Race, following Everyday Democracy’s Dialogue to Change process, set to launch in early October.

Ed and Leigh met two years ago, when their separate efforts were connected by Everyday Democracy Senior Associates Fran Frazier and Jill Frost, and have co-chaired the Dialogue for 18 months. Their accomplishments include numerous forums and dialogues; a Healthy Babies Block Party that drew 150 people; the upcoming dialogue; and creation of an upcoming video called “Dads Do Matter,” which will be widely used by public health workers and advocates.

“What Everyday Democracy has done is turn these two unlikely individuals into friends,” said Leigh.

“Fran and Jill worked closely with us at first and showed us how to organize and merge our skills.” Ed recalled. “We’ve learned to trust each other.”

They have also learned the importance of talking honestly about racism to a group’s ability to forge connections and move to action. As they hosted dialogues that incorporated Everyday Democracy’s principles, both Leigh and Ed were impressed by the energy and creative solutions generated by the process, and became personally convinced of the importance of honest dialogue about structural racism to help groups more effectively generate positive change in their communities.

“Racism is in the air we breathe,” said Ed. “Another way to look at it is white privilege. I am treated a certain way because of the color of my skin. It robs our society, and I am ashamed of it. I have to work at it.”

Leigh concurred. “It’s out there. I am 53 and I remember the National Guard being here, and now, every day you turn on the news and there’s more. I never thought my 27-year-old daughter would experience this much hate and discrimination.”

Dialogue, they believe, is more effective than many other methods of educating people and addressing the impact of racism.

“It has to be more than a presentation or a discussion,” Leigh said. “At workshops, people are closed and reserved and only open up when it’s time to go. People need to get comfortable and know they won’t be judged and be able to express themselves – then they can learn.”

“Leigh has struck gold by bringing in many different groups,” added Ed. “And Leigh and I are the right color and gender. We have been able to offer people dialogues and create mixed race groups, and it’s become a place for people’s creative energies to come alive.”

Ed and Leigh are currently reaching out to churches, partners and advocates as they recruit participants  for the upcoming Dialogue on Racism. “This is challenging work,” Ed said. “People aren’t bending over backward to come and talk about racism. But it’s important and necessary.”

Action Steps from the Dialogue

1. Dispense Information to New Parents: Baby books, update pamphlets, research and compile on-line resources

2. Good Nutrition: Make healthy food available, provide more nutrition education

3. Educate Ourselves: Share and promote black history, accomplishments, discoveries, inventions: educate on racism; honors, recognition, terminology

4. Community Center: Re-establish well-baby visits, employment centers to facilitate working

5. Baby Box: Sturdy box with mattress as safe bed for babies – lower risk of SIDS, includes bedding and essentials for newborns

6. Racial Awareness Program: YSU students and faculty facilitate dialogue groups

7. Reach Out to Impacted Moms and Dads: Support groups, networking, create oral histories, dialogue about social and medical reasons for high rates of black infant mortality

8. Community Block Party Kick Off: Activities for children and adults, resources re. black infant mortality, community police present in friendly setting, invite interest persons to join local dialogue groups.

“And now that we have started,” added Leigh, “we have the tools to keep going.”

If you are interesting in taking part in the dialogue contact Ed at edweisheimer@zoominternet.net or 330-953-3450.

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Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and we believe that our tools, advice, and resources will help foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue-to-Change process can help community members take action and make their voice heard.