Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cape jump-starts dialogue on race!

Cape jump-starts dialogue on race

WEST BARNSTABLE - Growing up in Nigeria, Frank Anigbo admitted he wasn't aware of the extent of racial prejudice when he moved to America 20 years ago.

Then the 39-year-old Barnstable resident had to break down one of the most difficult walls of racism - a bigoted in-law. The father of the love of his life, Karen, didn't take well to interracial relationships.

''I tried hard to help him get to know me, as Frank, rather than my race,'' Anigbo said last night. ''Now, he can't stop telling people how much he loves me.''

Organizers of the ''A Place at the Table'' community discussion about race at Cape Cod Community College didn't have one simple answer on how to prevent racism. Instead, they wanted to jump-start conversations about race relations by bringing people of all backgrounds together for some meaningful discussion on how to deal with it.

''People are often afraid of the things that they are uncomfortable with,'' said the Rev. Steve Carty Cordry of the Cape Cod Interfaith Leadership Council. ''We need to ask more questions to make each other more comfortable if we want the possibility of change for a better future.''

Dialogue about racial issues on the Cape couldn't be more timely. Within the past year, racial tensions have flared in the Falmouth Police Department, a cross was burned at Forestdale School in Sandwich, and a racial epithet was shouted from the grandstand at a local high school basketball game.

More than 100 Cape residents came together at the college's Tilden Arts Center to share their personal experiences and ideas about everything from racial intolerance to how to react when faced with discrimination.

One fact was clear: The Cape is not immune to experiencing racism.

Liza Morelas, a Brazilian native who now lives in Hyannis, had to get 12 stitches after a fight with three white women angered by her ethnicity two years ago.

Seventy-five-year-old David Richardson said people still turn their heads to look at him when he's the only black man in the audience enjoying a symphony orchestra performance.

Larry Mahan of Provincetown, a member of the newly formed Cape Cod Human Rights Commission, said he's been stopped by police 15 times on the Cape and he's convinced the stops were made because he is black.

But the open forum was more than a place to air grievances. It was a rare chance to talk about the barriers that foster discrimination and what individuals can do to promote equality.

Josh Dunn, a CCCC student who recently completed four years of service in the Army, said elders can play a key role in educating youth about what is acceptable in society.

''I think it needs to start at an institutional level,'' said Diana Di Gioia, an acupuncturist in Dennis. ''We need to figure out how to get more diversity training in our police departments and more black teachers in our schools.''

In the most emotional testimony, Verlyna Furblur, 60, of Brewster, said victims of racism need to reach out to the offenders and make it clear that intolerance is not an acceptable behavior.

''I won't allow a hater to make me become a hater,'' she said to resounding applause. ''That only gives power to racism, and I can't allow that.''

Jason Kolnos

(Published: February 9, 2006)

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