Pastor Max Rodas of Nueva Luz highlighted the importance of engaging youth especially within the Hispanic community. “We are the largest minority group, and also the youngest minority group but still invisible to many folks,” he said. Rodas said Latinos have a complex experience because; “We are not a racial group.” He said with the growing population, limited recognition and increased cases of racial profiling is creating an environment for the perfect storm; “I am still concerned with race relations in the city.”
As the presidential election year progresses the panel agreed more race tensions will surface and Rev. Rodas said while he celebrated Obama’s election his presidency has led to the most fierce enforcement of deportations among Latinos than any other president in history.
Peggy Zone Fisher, president of the Diversity Center of North East Ohio recalled her first experience of bigotry while helping campaign for Carol Stokes with her family. Targeted for supporting a black mayor her family was ridiculed, house vandalized but her parents stood firm in their support. “They taught us the world was a lot bigger and, regardless of who you are, every single person should feel safe.”
She said her parents instilled the importance of respect for everyone and that is what led her to take her position at the Diversity Center which offers leadership training classes, and works at various levels to improve acceptance of diversity in race, gender, socioeconomics and beyond. “We still have a lot of work to do,” she said recalling a recent high school play which cast the only two black students in roles of janitors. She said the election rhetoric such as ‘taking our country back’ sounds much like code, “I am concerned this election will turn ugly.”
Judge Annette Butler of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court said perception plays a critical role in race relations and as the first female black judge to fill her position she has faced many who believe her position was granted based on the color of her skin and not her outstanding credentials, “which are far superior than many.” The challenges of race perception allowed her to rise above and make a commitment to herself that every person in her courtroom would be treated with respect, “regardless of crimes they are accused of committing.”
Perceptions can be most difficult to eliminate and can be dangerous when they become part of enforcement law said Council on American Islamic Relations Executive Director Julia Shearson. She said ethnicity is not a predictor of crimes and indicators that use ethnicity to map crime are counterproductive—“I may be the most dangerous person in the room as a Muslim female according to those measures.” Citing statistics from the Pew Center of Researchn Shearson laid out the connection between socioeconomic disparities leading to racial disparities. She said the housing crisis disproportionately impacted Latinos and African-Americans.
The highest recorded unemployment rate for whites during the financial collapse is the same as the lowest unemployment rate for African-Americans in the past decades; “I am deeply troubled by the city of Cleveland’s race relations as it is a continuing inequality in access to education, employment, entrepreneurship and ways to better one self.”
Paramjit Singh said creating change is an individual responsibility; “Sikhs are students of humanity.” Speaking on behalf of the shootings at the Sikh place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Singh said, “Guns do not decide who is right, guns decide who is dead.”
Singh is on a mission to list Cleveland as the City of Peace with 250,000 pledges from Clevelanders standing up against violence, in solidarity with respect for all. He hopes to reach the goal by Martin Luther King’s birthday, January 21.
To read and sign the virtual visit ClevelandPeople.com: http://www.clevelandpeople.com/other/pledge.htm