ADVOCATING INCLUSION

When the topic of diversity and inclusiveness comes up in conversation, the first things that come to mind for many are race, gender and religion.

But when the African American Pastors Alliance in Columbus conducted its first quarterly conversation on improving race relations, moderator Frank Griffin attempted to broaden some horizons.

A sense of exclusion can stem from far more subtle things such as personality, age, upbringing, the region you were raised — and even if you are an Indiana University or Purdue fan, Griffin said.    

“It’s not a black thing or a white thing,” Griffin explained to more than 30 people who attended Monday’s program. “It’s the subtle verbal and nonverbal slights, insults, comments and actions taken against someone who is somehow different from themselves both intentionally and unconsciously.”

In contrast, inclusion means every voice has a chance to be heard and all people have the ability to reach their full potential, said Griffin, a manager at Cummins Inc. and minister of Thy Kingdom Come Ministries in Greenwood.

To illustrate exclusion, Paulette Roberts spoke about seeing a group of Latino children sitting on a schoolyard wall because they were made to feel excluded by their non-Latino classmates. 

Roberts, a semiretired teacher in Columbus who has long been associated with the local NAACP, says it’s important to start a dialogue on inclusiveness with parents, because kids bring prejudicial ideas from home to school.

In light of several school shootings, Griffin emphasized the importance of investigating the reasons why a child feels like an outcast in the classroom.

The first step toward having a meaningful dialogue with someone on controversial subjects such as race and inclusiveness is realizing your own faults, Griffin said.

“Every one of us have bias — and if you think you don’t, that’s a bias right there,” said Griffin, whose comment generated both laughs and nods of agreement.    

When people feel they — or anybody else — are being excluded, they need to voice their concerns in a respectful, nonconfrontational way, Griffin said.   

In response, a number of people told Griffin his suggestion makes them uncomfortable, since feelings and interpretations differ from one person to another.  

“But yet, if you just sit there and say nothing, we will continue to let things stay in the same state they are,” said Pastor David Bosley of Dayspring Church of God Apostolic.     

One difficult concept to keep in mind during controversial discussions is recognizing that seldom is one person totally right and the other totally wrong, Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann said. 

However, if your goal is to learn something new  — rather than win a fight — and mutual respect is extended by both participants, the outcome will be positive and productive.

“The objective is not necessarily to agree but to respectfully agree to disagree,” Griffin said.     

There was consensus among those in the audience that such discussions are far more successful when done on a face-to-face basis, rather than on social media sites such as Facebook.

As the quarterly conversations on perfecting race and cultural obstacles begin, one of the biggest challenges ahead will be to go beyond “preaching to the choir,” longtime Columbus Human Rights commissioner Gil Palmer said.

Griffin agreed with Palmer, noting that 80 percent of the people attending the first forum are long-established human rights leaders.

“We have to figure out how to reach out beyond our core leadership and get our message into the pews,” Griffin said. “I’m talking about those who have good intentions but are not aware of the impact of their words or actions.”  

Diversity and law enforcement

During the second half of the forum, the topic shifted toward cultural diversity as it relates to law enforcement.

The discussion was led by Indiana State Police Capt. Ruben Marte’, who explained why he developed a cultural diversity program for police officers.   

“Concern was expressed that some police officers did not have an understanding of their communities nor a commitment to working in partnership with them,” Marte’ said.

In addition, there are many who are convinced that the police disciplinary system is broken and unresponsive to issues, he said.

“Let me be clear. There are bad officers out there, and all of us both want and need to weed them out,” Marte’ said.

All employees with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department were required to received cultural awareness training from Marte’ this fall, Sheriff Matt Myers said.

But while local law enforcement is striving to address problems internally and accept responsibility, the matter is a two-way street. Communities are also acknowledging a lack of respect for people as human beings, especially within the minority communities, Marte’ said.

Police are expressing their own conclusions that too many Americans generalize officers based on either negative experiences or by media reports of allegedly unwarranted police shootings or abuse, the state police captain said.

In his presentation, Marte’ played several police videos, pausing frequently to ask audience members what they would do if they were in the officer’s shoes at certain points in time.

One showed a driver pulled over simply for a broken taillight who unexpectedly fired several shots at police. Another showed an officer being accused of racial profiling. A third showed a suspect shot five times for reaching inside his car for a wallet without telling the officer what he was doing.   

One video featured a minister who was also a protester against the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. During a police training simulation, the minister found himself “shooting” an unarmed but aggressive perpetrator.

During pauses, many members of the audience admitted they would have done the same thing in a number of the videos if they were the involved officer.  

Monday’s forum was another important step by the Columbus Police Department for building positive relationships with different segments of the community, Police Chief Jon Rohde said.  

And as Myers observed several African-Americans and police officers still talking enthusiastically about their new mutual understandings after the forum had concluded, he was smiling.

“If this is all that takes place as a result of tonight’s forum, it was well worth it,” Myers said.  

Creating an inclusive environment

Following a three-day Columbus workshop sponsored in August by the African American Pastors Alliance, more than 100 pieces of data were collected. Utilizing a Six Sigma process, Cummins Inc. analyst Wayne Burrell used the data to create five steps toward creating an inclusive multicultural environment in Bartholomew County.

  • Develop courage to expand your comfort zone.
  • Have open and honest community conversations with diverse groups.
  • Accept that there is an issue and proactively work to resolve it.
  • Educate to develop new mindsets by listening and learning.
  • Become committed to a message of love and acceptance to create a safe and welcoming community.   

About the AAPA

The members of the African American Pastors Alliance are ministers representing five local churches:

  • Calvary Community
  • Dayspring Church of God Apostolic
  • Faith Hope and Love
  • God’s House Missionary Baptist
  • Thy Kingdom Come Ministries.

The allliance’s goal is to perfect race relations in Columbus and Bartholomew County and to bring awareness of the racial issues, concerns and tensions that are going on throughout the nation.

Source: AAPA Facebook page

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.