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Panel: Race resulted in strides, backlash

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Electing the first black president four years ago brought greater acceptance of diversity in American politics, but it also produced a backlash of anger and racism, members of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day panel said Monday, reflecting on Barack Obama’s first term in office.

The six-member panel, made up of 18- to 30-year-olds, shared their thoughts during a discussion at Second Baptist Church, 1325 Reed St., Columbus. About 50 people attended the evening event.

The two women and four men, all black, also agreed that young people cannot expect they are owed anything because of their race or because of who has been elected president.

Panelist Donel Sallard said he was proud to see that voters elected a black man to the highest political office in the country but disappointed that there was such opposition from some people who did not support Obama.

Instead of disagreeing with the president’s positions on political issues, some foes attacked him personally, panelist Stephanie Truly said.

“We saw how angry some people were, and they disguised racism as political discourse,” Truly said. “It showed there’s still work to be done.”

Panelist Joseph Russell’s family has long supported Republicans, but he was frustrated by the poisonous comments he heard about Obama, even while he was at work.

“I have never heard so much hatred toward a current president,” Russell said.

Panelists said today’s younger generation too often feels a sense of entitlement, and they get too busy with their jobs and lives to take the time to take a stand for their beliefs.

“We can’t just wait around. We have to take action,” panelist John Sims said, urging people to stand up for themselves and others and not expect someone else to do it for them.

Even though blacks and other minorities have made strides in politics and other areas, work remains and young people have to continue to fight for the things in which they believe, Sallard said.

The Rev. Charles Sims of Cavalry Community Church encouraged panelists and others to devote even one hour a week to their communities to make a difference.

“We owe it to ourselves to be more involved,” Truly agreed.

The panelists said they felt they had a realistic view of the challenges faced by Obama as he began his second term as president. Although he might have had good intentions to do what is best for America and to improve the status of minorities, panelists said he must work with Congress to effect change.

But panelist Harvey Scruggs urged Americans not to wait for Obama or Congress to make changes, but to work hard even on their own to overcome race-related obstacles in their path.

Obama also had to face added challenges because he is biracial, born to a white mother and black father, the panelists said.

Frustrated by the race labels placed on people, panelist Josann Simms said she wished they could get away from those barriers. People are the same, she said, adding that if she needed blood from a blood bank, it didn’t matter to her who donated it.

What happens in the next four years remains to be seen, panel members said, but the presidential election showed that minorities, including blacks and Latinos, played a big role in electing Obama and now they need to continue to be involved in politics.

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