In a time when racial tensions are once again at the forefront of American minds, the only way to eliminate racism is to talk about it.

That was the core of the message the Rev. Kendall Wright presented at the first session of the Perfecting Race Relations series in Columbus on Friday.

The three-day event, which wraps up today, is sponsored by the Columbus African American Ministerial Alliance as a way to address the issues of race and prejudice in Columbus and across the country.

Those prejudices in Columbus haven’t escalated into riots as they have in Baltimore or Ferguson, Missouri, Wright said, but they exist all the same. That’s why conversations about ways to heal racial divisions need to begin again.

Story continues below gallery

“Racism is not an issue of the heart,” Wright said. “It’s an issue of the head.”

Even the most accepting person is socially conditioned to have some fear toward people of a different race, Wright said.

That fear can manifest itself in a small way, like holding a child’s hand tighter when a black man walks by, or in a more involved way, like seeking a second medical opinion because the original diagnosis came from a black doctor, he said.

Even today, when the millennial generation claims to be significantly more tolerant than their parents and grandparents, Wright said racism still hasn’t waned.

“The generational difference is not a difference in attitude, but a difference in managing the (prejudiced) behavior,” he said.

And even in a relatively small city like Columbus, residents say they know racial tensions are prevalent, although they may be hidden.

“I know for a fact that racism is there,” said Julia Stumpff, a Columbus resident who attended Wright’s first presentation. “I’m always shocked when I hear about it, but (my black friends) never are, because it happens to them all the time.”

In order to prevent riots and violence in Columbus, Wright said residents need to adapt Stumpff’s mentality and acknowledge that racism exists.

After that, the only clear step is to build positive relationships.

“It is the quality of relationships that impact the quality of life in a community,” he said.

If white and black residents are too scared to approach each other and discuss ways to make the community more welcoming, Wright said racial tensions in Columbus could continue to grow and fester until they erupt.

But if one resident channels courage — which Wright defined as contained rage — and is willing to start a conversation, then progress will begin to happen.

“Race is a big issue, not just in our community, but in other communities, as well,” said Lavonda Hendrickson, another Columbus resident who heard Wright speak. “We have to start somewhere.”

For some residents, starting somewhere meant starting at the “Spanning the Schism” workshop Saturday, where Wright led discussions among Columbus leaders about actions to take to address race issues in the city.

But when he says “leaders,” Wright said he doesn’t necessarily mean elected officials.

Every resident can be a leader, he said, as long as they’re willing to challenge divisive social norms.

“A leader calls someone out on their assumption of race, and does it boldly,” Wright said.

After two days of conversations about race, residents will finally learn how to put their ideas into action today at the third session of the Perfecting Race Relations series, “My Crimson Tan.”

Wright will deliver a sermon at Calvary Community Church that explores ways to promote unity in the community.

Residents will then be asked to make actions cards, which will serve as concrete plans to take into the community to foster the positive relationships Wright repeatedly spoke about.

Creating positive relationships is the key to promoting an attitude of inclusiveness in any community, Wright said, because those relationships build trust.

Once trust exists, love begins to build, and that’s when Wright said change will happen.

“All love requires sacrifice,” he said. “I say we put racism on the altar and sacrifice it.”

Today’s final session will begin at 4 p.m.

If you go

Session 3: “My Crimson Tan”

Rev. Kendall Wright will deliver the sermon, “My Crimson Tan” today at Calvary Community Church, 1031 Chestnut St. The service will begin at 4 p.m. and will include singing, scripture readings and an offering. Participants will also create action cards to identify ways to begin combating racism immediately. A reception will begin immediately after the service at 6 p.m.

Author photo
Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.