Conversation brings reflections on ending racism
WYE MILLS — The fourth “Sunday Supper — Queen Anne’s County Conversations on Race” took place at Chesapeake College, Thursday, March 2, as a luncheon. Participants were law enforcement officials, including numerous members of the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office, State’s Attorney Lance Richardson, Corrections Warden Lamonte Cook, several educational administrators and a large number of high school students.
The discussions on race relations began last July. Other sessions were held in September 2016 at the old Kennard High School building and November 2016 at Centreville United Methodist Church. Each session has invited special groups, local clergy in September, and educators in November. The groups invited this time were specifically law enforcement and young people.
Rev. Joan H. Brooks, pastor of New Revived United Methodist Church at Taylor’s Island (Dorchester County), and a member of the Conversations on Race Steering Committee, gave an invocation to begin the day’s discussions.
Brooks’ said, “You created us each uniquely in your image and likeness, in all shapes and sizes and complexions. We pray with faith and belief that you will heal the land of the infectious disease of racism that targets many even today. John 13:34, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.’ Help us to not participate in any racial acts against our brothers ... Help us all to live in peace and harmony with one another ... Help this community promote true understanding of racial issues in order to make Queen Anne’s County a more loving and compassionate community for all people. Amen.”
All of the sessions have been organized in small round table discussion groups led by individual facilitators asking several simple questions to promote open and honest discussions about race. Question 1, used as an “icebreaker,” paired two people at each table to describe their partner to everyone else at the table, having each person they were paired with to interview their partner to get to know them. Once that took place, question 2, “What was your first experience with someone of a different race?” and question 3, “What can we do to improve race relations in Queen Anne’s County?”
The discussions that followed questions 2 and 3 produced some interesting experiences and views.
From one table, facilitator Jeff Franklin said, “I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, coming from a Jewish family. Cleveland was an integrated community, at least legally, however, economic housing patterns in Cleveland often resulted in economic segregation in communities and schools. As Jewish people, we were keenly aware of segregation and discrimination ourselves.”
Kent Island High School senior Carl Bouie, 17, was paired with Sheriff Gary Hofmann, so Carl introduced Hofmann to the others at the table, saying, He’s been with the QA Sheriff’s Office the past 25 years, 11 years as the sheriff, grew up in Annapolis, with a single mother to raise him. His childhood best friend was an African American boy named Reginald (who still remains his friend). Hofmann’s mom and Reginald’s mom were good friends and that’s why as boys they spent a lot of time together. Sheriff Hofmann told me, ‘It taught me not to see people as a color. I don’t see people as a color today.’”
When Hofmann introduced Carl, he reported, “Carl told me, ‘I don’t view people as a color, I see them first for their character.’ That’s the way he was raised to see people by his family. Carl played basketball on the varsity team at KIHS this past season.”
Asia Jones moved to Queen Anne’s County from New Jersey and has noticed a restrictive difference in culture between folks of different colors here. She
said, “It’s been a transition for me. We didn’t have as much separation between people in New Jersey as here.”
KIHS senior Jamira Warner, 18, lives with her grandmother and works part-time after school at a local grocery store. Jamira’s goal is to become trained in neo-natal care. She said, “In my opinion, many students at the high school are sheltered and have money provided by their parents. They don’t understand the struggles of people who don’t have what their families have.”
Brooks remembered where she grew up (Talbot County), her parents moving her to an integrated school at an early age, when African American parents had a choice as to where to send their children to school — either to the traditional all-Black school or an integrated school. At first, Joan’s transition was personally difficult moving to a racially mixed school. Joan said she did successfully make the transition.
Among the group at that table, there was agreement, “There are ‘old folks’ who are set in their ways, and you’re not going to change them. They’re not ready for the changes they’ve seen out in society,” as one table member expressed.
“Today’s younger generation is the group that is going to overcome racism as we have known it,” said Brooks. Her view was agreed upon by everyone at the her table — the younger generation will help remove racism from our nation, and it will take time. She said she liked Carl’s view of not seeing color in people, but viewing people by their character.
Following the small group discussions, the floor was opened for general comments from participants. Recently retired school administrator Deborah Lawrence spoke first, saying, “We must be mindful of our actions and our words when speaking to others — that’s very important.”
From her table, 1st Sgt. Duke Johnston of the sheriff’s office said, “You know, we as law enforcement are people too. Quite often when we come into a store in uniform, parents will take their children by the hand and say, ‘If you don’t straighten up, he’s going to arrest you!’”
Someone else from another table commented, “What does that teach the child? — Fear the police!” It was a reaction to Lawrence’s comment, “be mindful of our actions and our words.”
Recommendations came from the floor, “We need a cadet program for our school children to do ‘ridealongs’ with police officers, so they can see the work that is being done to protect our community, and at the same time, get to know our law enforcement officers more closely.”
County Commission President Steve Wilson said, “There has been much discourse across our nation, some of it not so pleasant in recent years, about racial problems. We’re taking the high road to deal with this issue. That may be one of the reasons our county is nice here, because we make it nice with efforts like these discussions.”
Jack Broderick, also a Race Steering Committee member, who shared announcing responsibilities with Tasha Thomas on Thursday, said, “We need to capitalize on the goodwill of this event. Always keep discussions open, honest and respectful.”
One of nearly 20 tables where race relations were discussed, from the left, discussion facilitator Jeff Franklin, Kent Island High School student Carl Bouie, Bay Times reporter Doug Bishop (standing), Sheriff Gary Hofmann, Asia Jones, Joan Brooks, and KIHS student Jamira Warner.
Many Queen Anne’s County residents participated in the fourth conversation on race Thursday, March 2, this time held at Chesapeake College. The main groups invited were law enforcement personnel and high school students.
Sharing announcing responsibilities at the fourth “Sunday Supper” conversation about race, were Jack Broderick, left, and Tasha Thomas, shown here with event coordinator Ed Modell, Thursday, March 2, at Chesapeake College.