Com­mis­sion mem­ber has earned re­spect

The Columbus Dispatch - - Letters To The Editor -

A lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion re­cently aired a story re­gard­ing an em­ployee of the Colum­bus Urban League, Oleatha Waugh. The story led with the head­line “Con­victed felon ap­pointed to Mayor Ginther’s new Safety Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion” and in­cluded Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice lead­ers ques­tion­ing Waugh’s abil­ity to serve be­cause he was con­victed of drug-re­lated of­fenses al­most 25 years ago.

I can­not re­main silent about the injustice of this. In fact, this in­ci­dent re­flects the ex­act rea­sons why mis­trust per­sists be­tween com­mu­ni­ties of color and many in law en­force­ment.

Waugh has been a pos­i­tive, valu­able em­ployee of the Colum­bus Urban League for five years. He has de­voted his life to giv­ing peo­ple sec­ond chances, par­tic­u­larly in his work with Choose 2 Change, which ef­fec­tively keeps nine out of ten ex­of­fend­ers from re­turn­ing to in­car­cer­a­tion. Waugh is also im­mersed in other com­mu­nity vi­o­len­cepre­ven­tion ef­forts man­aged by our or­ga­ni­za­tion. He has never ex­hib­ited any­thing but re­spect for the law-en­force­ment and le­gal sys­tems, which he un­der­stands are crit­i­cal to ev­ery­one’s safety. In fact, he has been an ad­vo­cate for the FOP and ex­pressly in­vited FOP of­fi­cers to last year’s Fa­ther 2 Fa­ther Fish­ing with Dad an­nual event.

This coun­try has be­come mired in neg­a­tiv­ity and con­flict ex­actly be­cause peo­ple make un­fair as­sump­tions based on some­one’s past mis­takes. Mayor Ginther’s Com­mis­sion seems uniquely poised to help fos­ter bet­ter un­der­stand­ing among all com­mu­ni­ties and to find the com­mon ground that we des­per­ately need. How dis­ap­point­ing and ironic that even be­fore the Com­mis­sion’s first meet­ing — much less first rec­om­men­da­tion — peo­ple at­tack men of color be­cause of a nearly quar­ter-cen­tury-old mis­take.

I call on other com­mu­nity lead­ers to stand with me and speak out. Cel­e­brat­ing di­ver­sity not only means ap­pre­ci­at­ing tal­ent. It also means for­giv­ing trans­gres­sions.

Stephanie Hightower CEO and pres­i­dent Colum­bus Urban League

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