Around Tappan Square

Strengthening Race Relations

Community leaders, citizens, and educators strive for balance.

story by Yvonne Gay Fowler
photos by Peter Ogbuji

In 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.

"We 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."

One 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.

In 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).

One 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."

The 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.

For more information call 440-775-8055; or e-mail


back to top