Latest Lunch and Learn panel focuses on racism, racial understanding

Cary Ashby • Mar 10, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Soon after Donald Trump was elected president, Sue Lesch remembers driving down the road with her husband when they saw a billboard that said “make America white again.”

“I was shocked and upset about that,” said Lesch, the chairwoman of the Huron County Democratic Party. “I’ve been concerned about racism since the election of President Trump.”

In a country that should “believe in justice for all,” she said everyone needs to be challenged to live accordingly. 

Lesch hosted another Lunch and Learn panel discussion Friday at 16 W. Main St., this time on the topic of racism.

On the panel were: Mark Hardin, program director of the CACEHR (Community Action Commission of Erie, Huron and Richland counties); the Rev. Margaret D’Anieri, of St. Paul Episcopal Church; Lakewood resident Esosa Osa; and Janice Warner, chief executive officer (CEO) of the CACEHR.

Warner agreed with Lesch that it seems racism has become more relevant since Trump took office.

“Things that are coming out of the White House are unacceptable in our home,” Warner said. “I firmly believe in treating people like you want to be treated.”

There are people who feel threatened if a “strong, tall black man” wearing a hoodie comes into a business and “they are treated differently,” she added. Warner used the example of an employee asking a young, black person to take off their hoodie or he would be removed.

Warner stressed that people should be accepting of another’s differences and if a person looks different from them, “it doesn’t mean they’re not an OK person.”

Osa said it’s important to keep the conversation about race moving forward, especially since it’s “so easy to get caught up in a tribalistic argument,” basically an “us vs. them” mentality.

“We’ve never achieved any greatness in this country by being afraid,” she added.

Hardin, a Richland County native, said it’s amazing to think that in 2018 that the United States is dealing with the same issues he read about in middle and high school. He also said it’s important to have an honest dialogue and be objective about why racism “exists in the first place.”

“It’s not just an imagined experience,” Hardin added.

The panel members were asked about what can be done to improve racial awareness.

“TV and movies only get us so far and eventually we have to talk to each other,” said D’Anieri, who is a staff member on a diocesan commission for racial understanding.

Also, the priest recommended people “get to know someone who doesn’t look like you” and listen to others, but don’t debate. 

Warner shed light on racial awareness in the possible reactions to a hypothetical situation in which she moved into a mostly white community. 

“There will be those who receive me,” she said, and others whose entire conversation with her would be based on “their entire knowledge” of black people while other community members would attempt to make her as uncomfortable as possible.

“Sometimes I am the only black woman in a room full of white men,” Warner added, referring to her experiences as a CEO.

Osa reflected on a quote by the late Paul Robeson, an actor, athlete and lawyer who was a political activist for the Civil Rights movement: “Freedom is a hard-bought thing and millions are in chains, but they strain toward the new day drawing near.”

Osa, who remembered the quote as “freedom is a hard won thing,” said Robeson’s thought epitomizes the idea that battles over racism aren’t a new thing and they aren’t over. She stressed the importance of being intentional in how history is taught and it must be done with honesty and respect — without ever romanticizing things that can’t be romanticized.

“Don’t give me an alternative history,” Osa said.

She also said it’s important to be hopeful about racial awareness and understanding and “do everything in our power” to make sure the next generation does better with handling and understanding race relations than the previous one.

“I think we’re doing OK, but there are problems,” Osa said. “Interracial marriage is progress.”

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