Community Voices The Personal Side Of Race Part 5: In Terms Of Race, Where Does America Need To Go And What Have You Done To Help It Get There?

Posted: December 14, 1997

Poor John Quincy Adams. The former president is about to break into pop icon status with Amistad, the film about an 1839 slave ship revolt. But then a copyright dispute comes along and we learn that some of Adams' scenes are fiction. In the context of today's question, how perfect. We try to come to terms with where America needs to go in terms of race, and our filmmakers can't even appreciate the past for what it was. Adams was an elitist, so contrary to the film, it's unlikely he'd sit down in a jail and interact with the Africans accused of mutiny. But he was also dedicated to his country's principles of liberty and equality, so he could defend the same prisoners before the U.S. Supreme Court and help win their freedom. No drama there. We better change him. Today's essay writers are more grounded in reality, although they, too, speak of change. There are suggestions about changes others can make, but mostly people write about the changes within, and what they have learned about themselves. Reading them, and the dozens of other essays we've published in this series, one can gain an appreciation of the process of change and the learning that comes to those who are willing to listen - even if it is without Dolby surroundsound.

- Kevin Ferris, Readers Editor

The majority and desirable norms

If we are ever going to get anywhere in this society as far as race is concerned, we need to be sensitive to the issue of what it means to be a minority.

Majority individuals need to stop thinking of their experiences as the desirable norm for everyone. If we are to ever have an understanding of each other, majority individuals will have to venture into uncomfortable situations in which they might be the ``minority.''

An example of this comes to mind from my college days. Often my white roommates used to request that I come to the Social Activities Committee parties. The parties consisted of a lot of drinking, with dancing thrown in as an afterthought. Now when I went partying, I went to dance, so I was very concerned about the music, the atmosphere, that sort of thing.

Since the SAC parties seemed to be more about drinking, I really didn't enjoy them that much. But my roommates would constantly encourage me to attend with them as a ``roommate night out.'' Occasionally I would go just to hush them up, but I really didn't enjoy myself as much as I did at parties at the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale. There, dancing was the main objective. The music was live and people came to get their groove on. Most of the parties there didn't even serve alcohol.

I often described to my roommates the dancing and fun we had at the ``house,'' as we called the cultural center. I encouraged them to come with me so that they could hear music and dance. But they would make excuses about feeling uncomfortable or about being made fun of for their dancing.

No one particularly enjoys being in the minority. But many majority individuals believe that blacks should want to come and experience their parties, not considering that we may feel any discomfort there. Yet we minorities are expected to understand and accept their discomfort at being a minority among a group of African Americans at a party. We need to do some thinking about this.

Liana R. Clark

Mount Laurel

teendoc@msn.com

Strive for the mosaic, not the melting pot One of the most important things Americans can do to better understand racism here is to go out of the country. And you do not have to go far.

Last summer our family took three separate trips to Canada. Each one was to a different part, but included time in Ottawa, Toronto and Quebec.

Canada saddles her immigrants with expectations of melting-pot assimilation to a much lesser degree than the United States. Instead, racial and cultural differences are seen as part of a mosaic, where the varied pieces fit together to create something unique.

It is not a blending or melting of all the pieces. It is a recognition that each piece has importance and a place in the total picture. This seems to me to be a much more empowering, mature and hopeful notion than the melting pot.

John Moffatt

Abington

Personal involvement and responsibility I have always been a shy person. But for the last several years I have been making a conscious effort to reach out to others, especially those of other races. I have decided to treat others, not as suspicious and paranoid, but as shy people like myself who are waiting for contact but are afraid to take the first step. The results have been extremely rewarding. People respond eagerly. We are each energized and uplifted by the encounter.

I have organized no conferences or marches. I have no blueprint for change. I have only a simple philosophy of personal involvement and responsibility. America will never succeed in eradicating racism through government alone. That can be accomplished only on a one-to-one basis. But like fire in dry grass, such a grassroots idea can spread with incredible speed, overtaking the largest barriers.

Jonelle Lawrence

Ambler

Don't be lulled by the progress A lot of white Americans are lulled by the fact that the history of the United States has been characterized by fairly consistent progress in race relations. I think that this is misleading. Having begun with race-based chattel slavery, just about any other arrangement is going to represent progress.

We have to forget about making progress and get directly to square one: There is absolutely no problem with anyone being black.

Both political parties have let black America down: the Democrats by fostering a culture of dependency that has had a devastating effect in much of black America; the Republicans by ignoring or even denying the burden that white racism places on black Americans.

So what is a white, conservative Republican like me to do? I intend to start a new group to be called the Conservative and Libertarian Effort Against Racism. To this end I have established a Web site

http://ourworld.compuserve.com/

homepages/thewayfarer/

Thomas J. Adelsberger

Philadelphia

thewayfarer@compuserve.com

These are America's problems, they are my problems

When I enter the courtyard of my Mount Airy apartment complex, there is my 7-year-old playing football with his neighbors. My son is white; the boys he plays with are African American. Together we neighbors have planted bed upon bed of flowers in the courtyard where they now bloom in all their glorious color.

But all is not well in our environment. There are too many guns in this neighborhood. I am afraid when I walk from my car into my apartment building. At night I sometimes hear gunshots. Followed by sirens. Nothing has ever happened to me. But one neighbor was hit in the head with a brick and robbed at 5 p.m. while standing on our front steps; another had a laptop snatched as she went into the garage; another was held up at gunpoint along with two friends, one of whom was struck in the face with the gun; others have had their apartment robbed.

Yet something powerful draws me to urban challenge. The city, epitome of civilization - if we can't work it out here, what hope is there? The city, exciting, meaningful, compelling in its complex mix of colors, economic means, religions - the call to engage in this complexity speaks to me as a moral imperative. To stand against racism seems especially necessary at this time when black and brown people are discarded and dismissed. Just to be here is a statement against evil.

Does that mean that not being here is evil? No. The evil is not the choices people make to have a workable life. The evil is the systematic degradation of human beings, particularly poor people of color. I understand the choice of moving to a wealthier - read whiter - suburb: a movement toward safety, toward excellence, I understand that. Someday I might myself do that.

But by living here the problems of poverty and violence and unemployment and wasted lives are not just poor black people's problems. As Julius Lester says, these are America's problems; they are my problems. It's not a ministry to the poor; it's not even a witnessing. It's me living my life, trying to raise my children in a good way, trying to make ends meet, in this context. The struggles at the public school are my struggles; the questions of violence and safety are my questions. My life may or may not make a difference to anyone else. I have to do this because I think it is right.

When my eldest daughter started kindergarten at the neighborhood public school, an 80 percent nonwhite huge edifice, I felt inspired, enthusiastic. This would be my institution. This would be a place where black and brown and white people all worked together on behalf of our kids. When I went to the assemblies and saw the sea of brown and black faces, it made me cry with pride that we could do this together.

But a persistent low-level beating down has eroded my spirit. I've seen enough teachers screaming at children in the halls. I'm sick of the principal's dour rhetoric about how ``we're all a team working for our kids,'' especially after my parental input as part of the team is rejected because ``if you ask, then we definitely won't give it to you.'' It makes the other inadequacies that I live with less bearable. The 900 guns confiscated from local public high schools, the constant vandalism of cars on my block, the graffiti - all erode the spirit.

Now two of my children go to private school. Their schools are exceptional, with caring, talented faculty and an expectation of excellence. One white middle-class compromise seems to be that we can tolerate living here in the city, we even love it, but our kids will go to private school. Only a handful of neighborhood whites send their kids to the public school. I used to see this pattern as hypocrisy, but now, with a tolerance born from experience, I see that people do what they can do to make a workable life.

Now my youngest daughter is starting kindergarten at the public school. I have such mixed feelings. It isn't a warm, welcoming place where she will be noticed and nurtured. I'm sorry she won't get the loving attention that my son gets at his $10,000-a-year academy or my older daughter gets at her progressive community co-op. But part of me feels so proud to be part of the neighborhood public school. My child is strong and resilient, and she'll get the blessing of interacting with kids from all kinds of backgrounds. It may not work for her for the long run; I'll re-evaluate every year, certainly won't sacrifice my child for my ideals, but as long as it seems bearable to me, to her, I would rather be part of urban public education.

We have mastered coexistence here, and that is a revolutionary feat in this world. We, as a community, haven't moved beyond coexistence into the realm of real friendship across the color line. The people in my racially mixed building work on various committees together; we do have shared projects, a context. We plant the garden, rake the leaves, haul the recycling, vote at board meetings. But we don't hang out in each other's homes, attend each other's weddings, graduations. There is a social gap despite the great achievement in racially divided America of living cooperatively together in a building. My closest black friends have been women whom I have employed as caregivers or housekeepers. The ironic intimacy of those connections has forged lifelong friendships.

As a rabbi, I direct a program that brings people into this neighborhood for a year of study and community service. Working mostly from my home, I have the luxury of walking around the neighborhood during the day. Sometimes I listen to Shadow Traffic reports and feel glad that I'm not stuck in the traffic jams that happen because people live in faraway suburbs and work somewhere else. I love this neighborhood: trees and old homes, in the spring flowers all over, in the winter friendly folks shoveling snow for each other; I go into the co-op an hour before it opens, hoping they will let me buy a loaf of bread. ``Here take it, come back and pay another time.'' When my kids go to the drugstore or playground they know friends of all color. It really is the urban village.

I don't know how to address the major, structural ills of this city, the siege of problems from abandoned buildings to the dearth of jobs, to uneducated, aimless adults in dead-end lives. I hope we have public leaders who have some ideas about that, and I hope they're successful. What I feel I can do is so much more basic. I can make friends with the children in this building, include them in birthday parties and art projects, soccer games and holiday celebrations. The black teenage males here are not just black teenage males. They are Braheem and Malcolm and Elijah. We share a life at least in some tentative, fragile alliance.

Fifty years ago, when white flight started in Philadelphia, the religious leaders in this neighborhood made a commitment to stay put. Three major congregations refused to move to the suburbs. They became the anchors for an integrated neighborhood. Many individual decisions conspired to sustain this neighborhood as a truly diverse enclave. Small decisions added up to make a big difference, not at all a utopia but a working possibility, an effort in progress.

Standing on this foundation of 50 years, I add my voice to the discussion, my children to the playground, my flowers to the community garden. Our urban American gardens are threatened by poverty and hopelessness, rage and violence. They endure because decent human beings of all colors are trying, at least in some urban pockets, to live together in a way that works for everyone. I will be here for as long as I can, for as long as the rewards are greater than the hardship.

Julie Greenberg

Mount Airy

Trying to get a message across One Sunday last December, I was shopping in a large suburban mall for Kwanzaa cards and Hanukkah wrapping paper. I presented an unusual picture - a white mom carrying her beautiful black adopted baby. I thought I had experienced it all. But I hadn't. ``Kwanzaa, what's that?'' ``Hanukkah paper? You mean they don't use Christmas wrapping paper?'' ``Kwanzaa - now your son's adopted, right? So, I'm sure you won't take offense, but why isn't Christmas good enough for them?'' I came home feeling sick.

I obsessed for weeks, putting my thoughts on paper. I wanted to combine my talents as a psychiatrist and as an adoptive mother of special-needs minority children. I would create a workshop for sixth graders, whom I consider very open and proactive. My workshop, ``Perspective: The Experience of Being a Minority,'' includes all minorities - race, religion, ethnic background, medical and educational disabilities.

My goal is for each child to come to an understanding of how each of us is a minority in some way and to use this self-knowledge to come to understand the more serious challenges some minorities face.

I have never done anything like this before. I am not a public speaker. In fact, I am quite shy. But I have done this a handful of times so far and the children's response has been enthusiastic. Their writing, affirming how their eyes have been opened, has brought tears to my eyes.

Maria A. Pugliese

Draw upon the best that is within all As we meet the many challenges of today's world, we need to draw upon the very best that is within those we come into contact with. We cannot afford to either dismiss, limit or enlarge upon our expectations of people because of their race, nationality, or other factors over which they have no control.

There are ample resources in this nation to enable each of us to obtain what we need to succeed. But we all have to work and work very hard to make our dreams come true. And we absolutely must work together, alongside each other. There is no way this country can survive with its various racial groups pursuing their own separate interests.

Our leaders must set a good example. Speak out for what is right and in the best interest of the nation and its people as a whole. Stop pandering to self-serving special-interest groups whose agendas are suspect. Stop trying to be all things to all people without regard for merit and virtue.

I try as much as I can to influence people with regard to right and wrong. Not just on matters involving race relations but in the broader context of trying to be good, conscientious and God-fearing people.

Calvin C. Roach

Step up to the plate as individuals America needs to stop relying so much on the mechanics of the government and step up to the plate as individuals.

Individuals will have to be upfront, inquisitive and honest. A good amount of our fear rests in not fully understanding one another. When I am confronted with something that I do not understand, I ask questions and am open to the answers I receive. If, for example, the texture of an African American's hair mystifies me, I'll say, ``Tell me about this, why is it like that?'' Most people are open to this type of candor.

Americans, look beyond your little world. Be verbal. Stand up. Get to know one another. Satiate your curiosity. Eradicate your fears. Be warriors. And have a sense of humor! You'll feel better.

Janine Hayes

Segregationist residential policies Personal outreach across the races and understanding the other individual's pain simply don't change the fundamental inequalities in our lives, especially the residential segregation. We are where we live. And this is so often separate.

What can we do about the segregation that determines so much of our fate? We can start by recognizing it for the fatefully determining factor that it is. We can judge public and private development plans and investments less by how well the goods and services are divided among racial turfs and more by whether they provide incentives to live together in the same locations.

What have I done to help move toward a future in which interracial prospects are more positively linked? I've made personal choices that are integrative. I've joined others to challenge the mindless separate-and-unequal development policies of our government. I'm looking for others of all races who want to do likewise.

Donald L. DeMarco

Discrimination is always wrong If America is to unshackle itself from the disastrously divisive legacy of white racism, it will have to do so without instituting reverse discrimination. No matter how noble the intent, discrimination based upon irrelevant factors is always wrong.

In an attempt to stop racial discord and to reinstitute a shared vision of the common good, I have spent 30 years writing quixotic letters such as this one.

Michael Dougherty

Wilkes-Barre

Congregation recognizes the importance of change It's been quite some time since I cried. But during a recent visit to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Ala., the tears just flowed. Other visitors, both black and white, reacted similarly. We were stunned and saddened by America's racist cruelty and the continued effects of the disease of racism upon some of our nation's citizens.

Racism is one of the most important challenges facing us. It is not a problem that should be hidden or tolerated or covered up. Racism is a ``cancer'' that has been spreading for more than 400 years. Legislation has changed some laws. But changed laws cannot change people's hearts.

Our leaders must take this nation in the direction of national repentance and forgiveness with the intention of rebuilding and repairing and healing our nation - and bringing its citizens together in unity. This means acknowledging the full truth about the slavery of African peoples through the greed, oppression and abuse of power by whites.

We, as a nation, need to grieve and weep over racism. And having wept need to resolve the issues that divide us.

Since 1995, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, has made a commitment to racial reconciliation. As a pastoral staff member, I have teamed up with a core group of ``bridge builders'' for the process of transforming individual and corporate attitudes and behavior.

We began with a weekly Bible class that taught the history of racism in America and the need and process for change. We wanted to create a diverse community and a safe place to dialogue. We wanted to encourage more cross-cultural relationships and make our church and our homes places for racial reconciliation. This class continues every Sunday morning.

In addition, Tenth Presbyterian Church hosts monthly ``reconciliation breakfasts.'' We hear from ethnic leaders and try to understand racist stereotypes, perceptions, attitudes and behavior.

The late Rev. Tom Skinner once said, ``Racial reconciliation is surgery, and surgery is never painless. But the point where we feel pain is the beginning of the surgical process. A doctor can't do open-heart surgery on you unless you are willing to get onto the operating table, allow him to cut beneath the skin and expose your most sensitive and vital organs to his healing knife.

``Racial reconciliation is whites and blacks holding on to each other, not letting go, and doing surgery on each other. Reconciliation requires exposing our vital organs to the truth that we speak to each other. It's risky. If trust hasn't been built, the operation is destined to fail. But when we build trust and stay on the table to the end of the surgery, there is hope for healing in the most delicate and vital places of our racial residue.''

Reconciliation begins with me. Reconciliation begins with you.

Let us - together - build the bridges of trust, involvement and hope.

David S. Apple

Some important first steps toward racial reconciliation The civil rights movement changed this country just about as much as a political movement can. But the true battle against racism lies beyond the foundation of laws.

The best book I have read on racial reconciliation is More Than Equals by Perkins and Rice. These authors, one black, one white, list three things that must take place to heal wounded race relations.

The first step is to admit that racism does exist and is an important issue. Racism is fostered by ignorance. The second step is to submit to God and to others in a spirit of love on which a relationship can be built. The final step is to commit to the cause. As individuals, we are to commit to an intentional lifestyle of loving racially different people as we love ourselves.

Michelle L. D'Antoni

Aston

How much difference does skin color make? I teach introductory psychology at a community college, and I include a study unit on prejudice and discrimination every semester. For the last few years I have been showing my classes a segment of ABC's Primetime Live called ``True Colors'' in which two discrimination testers attempt to ``move into'' the city of St. Louis.

The two men are alike in many ways - age, college education, interests - but John is white and Glenn is black. The question: ``How much difference does skin color make in everyday life in America?''

The results are stunning. In virtually every situation - shopping, applying for a job, trying to find a place to live or just strolling through downtown - hidden cameras show John blending in and Glenn being ignored, insulted, rejected, taken advantage of, and, in general, being ``treated like an outsider.''

Afterward, John reports: ``Yeah, I think I could make it and set up

here if I wanted.'' But Glenn says, ``I think I would be fairly discouraged. . . . It has been rough. You walk in with a suit and tie and carry yourself in a very respectful manner and it doesn't matter. . . . Someone will make determinations about you . . . and the only basis is one thing I cannot change. I'm not going to take off black skin. I'm going to be black forever.''

The effect on my students - 95 percent of whom are white - is palpable. And now, after many screenings, predictable. Most are disturbed by the blatant discrimination against Glenn. But some attempt to rationalize.

``It goes both ways,'' they insist. ``Blacks are just as prejudiced as whites,'' and ``The same thing would happen to a white guy trying to move into a black neighborhood.''

It is at that point we apply the critical-thinking principle of valuing truth above self-interest. It is in the self-interest of white people to somehow negate the truth about discrimination. If we can deny or rationalize this truth, we don't have to do anything about it or feel any guilt, and we are then free to support legislation that would end affirmative-action policies aimed at making situations fairer for people like Glenn.

We then draw an important distinction between prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is an attitude, discrimination is behavior. It is true that many ``blacks are just as prejudiced as whites.'' But do blacks have as much power to discriminate as whites do? Where is power in America concentrated? Where do real opportunities for social and economic advancement exist?

It is in white America's shared self-interest to accept Glenn's ``truth'' as part of its own. The truth might not ``set us all free,'' but at least we'd have the satisfaction of knowing we have the courage to face it.

Tom Frangicetto

Langhorne

Bringing individuals together in meaningful, constructive ways The key to ameliorating the racial tensions and mistrust in our society must come from bringing individuals from different backgrounds together in meaningful, constructive ways, rather than from just talking, thinking, or writing about race issues.

As the director of a program that pairs elementary and middle school classes from the city and suburban districts, I have seen this type of learning and transformation take place. Partners places 1,680 students from 60 classes in year-long partnerships. Participating classes come from Philadelphia, Lower Merion, Radnor Township, Springfield Township (Montgomery County), Upper Merion, Upper Moreland, Pottstown and two independent schools.

Superficial, one-time or haphazard attempts at bringing individuals from different backgrounds together will not bring about positive changes in attitudes or personal or social transformation.

But by pairing classes for an entire year and guiding them toward effective intergroup collaboration, Partners has succeeded in fostering an understanding of diversity and an appreciation for individuals from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds. When students, parents and teachers from different communities come together to work toward common goals, the fear of ``the other'' is reduced, often eliminated, and common ground is found. Also, students are empowered to transcend barriers and stereotypes and form relationships that give access to a larger world.

The literature on intergroup relations supports the outcomes we have achieved. The late Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport, after conducting extensive research on cross-racial and cross-ethnic interactions aimed at enhancing intergroup relations, concluded that ``contact must reach below the surface in order to be effective in altering prejudice. Only the type of contact that leads people to do things together is likely to result in changed attitudes. . . .

``To be maximally effective, contact and acquaintance programs should lead to a sense of equality in social status, should occur in ordinary purposeful pursuits, avoid artificiality, and, if possible, enjoy the sanction of the community in which they occur. The deeper and more genuine the association, the greater the effect.''

I salute the teachers of Partners and the participating communities for their courage and leadership in proactively addressing the racial problems of our society.

Linda Hansell

'What can we do for world peace? Play Bach.' Beverly Daniel Tatum reflects in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: ``When my students begin to recognize the pervasiveness of racism in the culture and in our institutions, they begin to despair, feeling powerless to effect change. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, too. The antidote I have found is to focus on my own sphere of influence.''

That feeling of inertia described by Tatum has been the driving force behind our work on Joining Shipley, Bach and Central High (JSBACH), a collaboration linking an arts organization (The Bach Festival of Philadelphia) with two high schools, Central High in Philadelphia and the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr.

It is designed to give young musicians an interdisciplinary look at the music of J.S. Bach and to provide an historical and cultural context for Bach's oeuvre as well. The goal is to provide opportunities through shared experiences for students from very different environments to discover common talents, interests and hopes.

There will be no real way to quantify the success of this program. Even joint concerts, a completed harpsichord built by students, or splashy collaborative publications will be merely visual and aural reflections of our underlying goal: to help break down stereotypes and socioeconomic and geographical boundaries.

We have taken to heart Tatum's suggestion that we use our sphere of influence. As the cellist Pablo Casals said, ``What can we do for world peace? Play Bach.''

Sue Hoaglund

Wanted: Culturally healthy environment As a child growing up in South Philadelphia, my world consisted of a predominantly Italian American community where our seemingly ``natural adversaries'' were the Irish Americans, who were in the minority in the immediate neighborhood.

It was not until I was 16 that I had the opportunity to interact with teenagers of different backgrounds - black, Jewish, Protestant - and learned that, while different in some ways, we were all very similar. It was in preparation for attendance at the World Jamboree in 1967 that I had the opportunity to meet other scouts from throughout the city. We met at each other's homes, learning how similar we were, how similar our homes were, how similar our families and future plans were.

Recognizing the differences between the real world and my ``sheltered'' early childhood experiences, I, along with my wife, wanted a healthy and culturally stimulating living environment in which to raise our family. Twenty-one years ago we chose to move to a racially and religiously diverse community, Mount Airy. We have since been able to raise our four children with not only an understanding of people's differences, but, more important, with an appreciation of our similarities.

Lawrence P. DiFranco

Focus the dialogue on white supremacy From the time I was a student at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, I have engaged people in conversation and debate over the issue of racism. For 22 years, I have engaged this subject. The responses of the dominant group - the majority - have changed little, no matter the age, the education or the class of the group. A white friend in school asked me why it was that black people did not act normal? He did not see that ``normal'' meant acting white. I find that this blindness is at the root of racial injustice in America. And it is nurtured by the media.

Progress will be made when the discussion of racism is focused on white supremacy, the beliefs and actions that white people are superior and have the right to rule other races. And when our country teaches American history as the struggle to make real the words: All people are endowed by God to rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Rev. Gerard Marable

Glassboro

A life grows deeper through loving others What if everyone made it their business to love someone of a different race? Not just like or get along with, but love. That is certainly within the realm of possibility, though it would take some work for those of us whose contact with other races is minimal or superficial.

The clearest example in my life has been our family's decision to invite a teenage person of color who baby-sat for our little boys to become a foster son at a point when he needed a home. I had the great good fortune to have my kitchen filled with African American young men whom I knew by name and liked; my boys got to adore their older brother - and continue to adore him 10 years later; and we've had to grapple with racism. My life grows steadily richer as my connections with people of different races and classes grow and deepen.

Pamela Haines

Using business to attack social ills Five years ago, while directing a county mental-health system, it became apparent to me that social services are unable to correct social problems. The fine people who work in this field are able to ameliorate the suffering of some people, but the problems are usually too enmeshed in social and economic dysfunction to be reasonably resolved.

I was also aware that young people were getting much of their moral education and social commentary from the entertainment world. Youth were also committing suicide at an unprecedented rate, were involved in violent crime at tender ages, and minority youth frequently denied that their future held any promise, anticipating an early death through violence.

These and other realizations prompted me to leave my position and invest most of my savings in MEE Productions Inc., a minority-owned company that was doing research on urban youth in order to produce videos that would entice them, excite them, and hopefully have a positive effect on their behavior. The founders of MEE also were hiring and training young people to work with them. For me, the most effective aspect of their mission would be to show the entertainment industry that you can provide ethical entertainment for youth and still be highly profitable.

The company has expanded beyond its original mission and does research on urban youth for the government, including how to address the issues of teen pregnancy, AIDS, violence and educational effectiveness. MEE has trained many young people and, in some instances, helped them to establish their own companies.

Diane Bricker

Drexel Hill

Free yourself from self-destructive fears I would like to see the country move toward the 21st century with an extensive campaign to use the media, the classroom, lecture halls and the technological advances of the information highway to correct the misconceptions, half-truths and falsifications of the history of Africa and African Americans.

It is past time to overturn the 17th century propaganda that promoted racist thinking. Exploration of true information about any people will reveal that all ethnic groups are composed of people with great strengths and with similar weaknesses. History will reveal that one of the great weaknesses of humankind is to attempt to gain economic, political and personal power by exploiting others and subjecting them to their control. In order to justify the behavior their conscience could not condone, Americans hardened their hearts by spreading ignorance and promoting misconceptions about the Africans whom they captured for free labor.

My challenge is to share as often as possible the basics of human nature as originating from one creator so that emotional insecurity, which nourishes racism and stereotypical thinking, fear and violence in the heart, is banished.

I seek to promote emotional education so that skills in self-understanding, empathy, personal responsibility and cooperation enable each individual to be free from self-destructive fears and inability to cope with differences in those unlike himself. The mass media could help greatly by publishing the strengths of African Americans and their contributions to this country in spite of the racism and harsh treatment.

Gwendolyn Brightful

Yeadon

To order reprints of the series * The Inquirer will publish all five parts of the series The Personal Side of Race Jan. 15. Beginning on that day - and not before - call to order copies at 215-854-2913. There will be a small per-copy charge.

* To suggest future topics on race, call 215-854-4543.

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