Building a warmer society over cold ones

Posted: August 01, 2014

AT 16, KAREN Asper-Jordan went off to the picket line as part of the Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters, the Philadelphia civil-rights group that helped lead the efforts to desegregate Girard College.

Forty-nine years later, after an event last night inside Reading Terminal Market aimed at promoting a dialogue about race, Asper-Jordan said that she learned how much she's grown since childhood. And that she, too, had some stereotypes that have to be "broken down."

"This dialogue that we have here makes us all think," said Asper-Jordan, 65. "And it makes us evaluate ourselves and our own thought processes."

At yesterday's forum, about 75 people snacked and sipped Kenzinger and Walt Wit beers - all while participating in role-playing activities intended to get them to empathize with other cultures. The event was put on by Global Citizen, a nonprofit group that organizes the annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service. Global Citizen president Todd Bernstein said discussion was a way for people to find common ground.

"When you bring together concerned citizens of diverse backgrounds, what's important is to explore solutions," said Bernstein, 56, of West Mount Airy.

The sixth annual event fell on the anniversary of the White House's "Beer Summit," held in 2009 after black Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested outside his Massachusetts home. Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department, who's white, arrested Gates after someone had called 9-1-1 about a possible burglary.

The event's facilitators asked 25 questions to learn attendees' backgrounds. Then, they led an activity in which everyone took on a different race, sex and age.

At the end, they asked everyone to think about something they're willing to commit to doing.

Vincent Thompson, 48, of South Philadelphia, said it's great that Philly is a city of neighborhoods, but people often don't leave their areas to try to understand their neighbors.

"For us to really thrive," said Thompson, who works in public relations, "we're going to have to understand that we rise and fall as a city."

On Twitter: @dylan_segelbaum

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