leaders, citizens, and educators strive for balance.
story by Yvonne Gay Fowler
photos by Peter Ogbuji
July, inside a conference room at the city's public library,
members of the Oberlin Race Relations Committee (RRC) gathered to
discuss ways it might help level the racial playing field, promote
diversity in decision making, and raise awareness of racial attitudes.The
meeting was one of several the town-and-gown group has had since
it was founded in September 2001, after the city's now defunct
Inter-Agency Council identified race relations as one of the main
reasons why many minorities did not take full advantage of local
services and programs.
are moving into a coalition-building phase of our work," says
Peter Ogbuji, assistant director of the Center for Service and Learning
at the College and one of the group's moderators. "The
most challenging part of what we are doing is how to make our work
unifying and healing at the same time. Community building, which
is the work of the RRC, is like raising a child. You admonish, yell,
and scream, but you also hug that child."
of the RRC's major undertakings thus far was the diversity
survey it conducted among 34 organizations and employers in Oberlin
during 2001. Daphne John, chair of sociology and associate professor
at the College, served as consultant on the project.
John's analysis of the survey, local business owners said
"they do reach out to members of the minority community, but
are less likely to actually have plans or processes in place to
deal with equal opportunity, community issues, or race relations."
To help them better serve the community, business owners suggested
that education in the form of workshops on racial and ethnic diversity
be implemented. (John's entire 18-page report is available
at the reference desk at the Oberlin Public Library).
response to these findings: the RRC created a safe and comfortable
space where citizens would be encouraged to speak freely about improvements
in race relations. The group's first such Deliberative Forum,
held in January, was attended by 22 residents. With word spreading,
this summer over 50 citizens took part in discussions. "We
are very clear that the RRC is not the only entity that will solve
or address the racial challenges facing the community," Ogbuji
says. "We understand that the solutions will have to come
from different individuals and organizations."
annual summer RRC-sponsored community-wide picnic which began last
year has also been well received. At both events more than 250 residents
from all walks of life have enjoyed food, music, and warm fellowship.
more information call 440-775-8055; or e-mail Oberlinrrc@yahoogroups.com.