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Hispanic Roundtable and Policy Bridge: Brown and Black dialogue

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent 

Hispanic Roundtable and Policy Bridge sponsored ‘Brown and Black Dialogue’ among prominent leaders from the Latino and African-American community on June 23, 2009 at the City Club of Cleveland.  Panelists discussed barriers, commonalities, and importance of unity and engaging youth as pivotal for prosperity in both communities.

Rev. Max Rodas, Executive Director of Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center, said with the growth in U.S. Latino population myths and fears have seeped into the African-American communities and the perception of limited resources have often triggered animosity. “You can travel from city to city and state to state and see there are serious tensions,” he said. ‘The debate of undocumented immigrants is compounding the tensions,’ Rodas added. “Immigration is an issue we all really need to address together,” he said.

Barbara Danforth, Executive Director of YWCA of Greater Cleveland, challenged the Latino community to educate their African-American friends on immigration issues. She said the lack of interaction between the Latino and African-American community is not intentional but simply a lack of socialization contributed by the geographical stigmas of East and West sides in Cleveland. “We have to cross the bridges to get to know each other,” Danforth said.

“Geographic barriers have been here for a long time but if we look at the prospering areas they are diverse and provide opportunities for all ethnicities,” said Terry Travis, Founder and President of www.Cleveland365.com.

Attorney Raymond Headen, Brickler and Eckler, LLP, added the distinct neighborhoods don’t facilitate social interaction between the groups; but he sees possibilities arising from the social and economical crisis. Especially foreclosures, which he said are an incredible opportunity for the communities to pool their real-estate powers and create multiethnic neighborhoods.

Travis said the city needs a new direction and it needs to involve developing a workforce prepared for green sustainable jobs. Panelists agreed the younger generation is more integrated and better equipped to deal with problems.  Diana del Rosario, Dean of Student Affairs at Cuyahoga Community College, said the largest segment of both communities is under the age of 25 and colleges are seeking to encourage more pursuant of higher education regardless of race or income.  Rosario said it is critical for the communities to put efforts toward educating minority values, assisting teachers in helping students graduate from high school and most importantly involving parents.

Headen said with the $787 billion stimulus money being pumped into the economy over two years for the city needs to think outside the box; “Our differences dissolve when we come together because it always comes down to that we have been deprived and discriminated against, this is an opportunity,” he said.

Joe López, President and CEO of New Era Builders said it’s important to acknowledge tension between the communities exist, especially in Cleveland’s minority business. “We like to take care of our own first,” López said, and often involving other minority groups is an ‘after-thought’.

 López said if the communities united their buying power corporations would notice and invest more money in education, entrepreneurs, organizations and predominantly ethnic neighborhoods. López said there needs to be a shift in dynamics; “Corporate is going to have to deal with us… right now we are allowing them to tear us apart, let’s say ‘That’s enough!”

Danforth agreed; “If we combine our numbers we could dominate politics in the region.” She said another commonality between the communities is the lack of visibility for leaders in both communities. She used moderator Randell McShepard, Chairman and Co-founder of Policy Bridge, as an example saying while he more than qualified to serve as board member of numerous organizations there are many more qualified candidates who need the opportunity and must step up.

“It’s time for us old dogs to step aside and trust the new generation to take more responsibilities,” Danforth said. Her comment prompted an “amen” from eighty-year old Pearl Thompson, who noticed the lack of youth present at the forum and said they have to be engaged in these conversations as children. Thompson said the dialogue needed to start a long time ago and it’s time to move conversations into actions and yield results.

“This is the best thing to happen in Cleveland in a long time,” she said.

López said ‘the communities need to identify issues affecting both communities, set measurable solutions, and make the movements contagious.’ Rodas added, ‘while dialogue focused on Brown and Black conversations it must not neglect the hyphenated identities;’ “Children who are black and brown,” he said.  Rodas described them as an eclectic group with global perspective devoid of racism and class-orientation, which indicates positive changes for the future.

On the Internet:
Hispanic Roundtable: www.convencionhispana.org
Policy Bridge: http://www.policy-bridge.org
Cleveland365: www.Cleveland365.com






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