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Subjects diverse in race discussion
From Trayvon Martin to crime, perceptions
Panelists for Friday’s discussion were (from left) Sammy Redd, Brandon Kellam, Pamela Hairston-Chisholm, Chip Hairston, Dr. Kimberly Matchett, Mayor Kim Adkins, Sharon Brooks Hodge, Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry, Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper and Tony Jones. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
The Trayvon Martin case, poverty and drug-related crimes were among the many subjects raised Friday at a racial relations panel discussion.
The more than three-hour moderated panel discussion was held Friday night at Patrick Henry Community College with more than 25 spectators, mostly black, attending the discussion.
That in itself became an issue when panelist Pam Hairston-Chisholm asked where the white people were, including those who wrote angry letters to the Martinsville Bulletin last spring concerning City Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge’s comments about a “small black person” on a quilt made by students from the Piedmont Governor’s School. There were cries for Brooks Hodges’ resignation or removal, and she later apologized.
As for the letters to the editor, Chisholm said black people are not the enemy — the enemies are overseas.
Brooks Hodge, also a panelist Friday night, said she was not participating as a member of city council but as executive director of Black Family Preservation Group Inc. She cited statistics from the study “Educators’ and Non-Educators’ Perceptions of Black Males: A Survey,” printed in the Journal of African American Men in 1995. The study said 53.2 percent of white people surveyed rated black people as less intelligent, 56.1 percent of whites rated blacks as more violence prone, 77.7 percent of whites rated blacks as likely to prefer living on welfare, and 62.2 percent saw
blacks as being lazier, according to the website.
Brooks Hodge said her point was that black people should be aware of how others perceive them.
Later, during a discussion about George Zimmerman being acquitted in the Florida shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Brooks Hodge again said black people need to be mindful of how others perceive them or they “could end up dead.”
Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins said she thinks that case, which sent “shock waves” throughout the country, will result in a nationwide debate about such things as racial profiling and stand-your-ground laws.
Panelist Tony Jones said Neighborhood Watch should not mean neighborhood hate or neighborhood oppression.
Student panelist Brandon Kellam said he feels that Trayvon Martin was stereotyped. Kellam said at times he has felt he was viewed as a “thug” because he is a black male and wears hoodies. He said he doesn’t wear hoodies over his head for a reason and he also doesn’t wear baggy pants.
That led to a discussion about appropriate dress and how a person dresses affects how he or she is viewed. Comments from panelists and audience members ranged from the hiphop generation having different standards about acceptable dress than older generations, to people wear what they can afford, to people should spend their clothing budgets more wisely (for example, buying polo shirts and dress pants on sale).
Along with that was a discussion about the importance of showing respect to others.
Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry and Martinsville Sheriff Steve Draper said in their law enforcement duties, they are not concerned about how people they encounter are dressed, but rather such things as those people making eye contact, being respectful and not having an attitude.
Both sheriffs also said they emphasize having diversity in their staffs so they represent the communities they serve.
Moderator Chad Martin pointed out that there’s a common misconception that there are more black men in prison than in college, and he cited national statistics showing there are about 1.4 million black men in college and about 841,000 in prison in the United States.
Perry and Draper indicated the percentages of black inmates in the local jails has declined in recent years, but they gave no statistics.
Perry said, however, that the attitude among some that incarceration is an acceptable lifestyle needs to be changed.
Both sheriffs said drugs and drug-related crimes are the biggest crime problem.
Adkins suggested that community and state officials discuss starting drug courts locally to provide structured rehabilitation in an effort to keep people out of jail/prison. Draper said that is a good idea but finding funding is a problem.
Sammy Redd of New College Institute said he has been amazed by how many males, including black males, he encounters who have criminal records that can follow them the rest of their lives, limiting their opportunities.
Redd also said he feels there is equality of opportunity, but not equal access to opportunities. What’s needed is to say, “Hold my hand. I’m going to show you how to access opportunities,” he said.
Brooks Hodge talked a lot about the disintegration of the black family, including an increase in out-of-wedlock births among black women over several decades; black women choosing abortion; what she called the devaluation of the black male resulting, in part, from governmental policies in which black mothers didn’t get welfare checks if there was a man living in the house; and the increased likelihood of poverty, dropping out of school and other negative consequences for children from single-family homes. She said marriage and positive fatherhood initiatives need to be stressed.
She also said she doesn’t see the need for black people to assimilate into the white culture, but that black and white people should have respect for each other.
Panelist the Rev. Kenneth Davis said churches are largely segregated by race, and he cited the need for opportunities for people of different races to worship together.
Jones said that regardless of who caused problems between races, races need to work together to solve problems. He said black and white people need to look at the root causes of problems or offensive incidents and work from there for mutual understanding and respect.
Among other comments, Martin referred to a predominantly black church in Henry County that was burned for racial reasons.
Martin and Hairston-Chisholm talked about Ku Klux Klan activity, and panelist Chip Hairston said through study and hard work, black people can choose not to be victims and rise above their circumstances.
During closing arguments, panelists said they want the discussion to continue and to result in positive actions.
Virginia Renegade Sports sponsored the panel discussion.