Photo Gallery | Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross talks race relations
GREAT BARRINGTON — Improving race relations in America needs less talk, more action from both whites and African Americans, according to Rev. Sheila Sholes-Ross.
"I'm tired of singing 'Kumbaya' and "We Shall Overcome,'" Sholes-Ross said. "If we haven't overcome by now, when will we."
The first African American woman to lead Pittsfield's First Baptist Church called on the dozens of various faiths gathered at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire Sunday afternoon to actively engage with those who don't look as they do.
"When you engage with those of different ethnicity you find they are people too," she noted. "What we have in common is we are all human beings."
Sholes-Ross' frank, visually aided one-hour discussion on ways to make the country color-blind was titled "The Big Talk: Perception, Reality and Consequences — Can We Move Forward? If so, how?"
The New Orleans native was the latest presenter for the 2015/16 Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series put on by a collaboration of area religious, cultural and ethnic organizations. While theme is "Black Lives Matter," the reverend believes it's humanity that matters when dealing with racism
"We need to have everyone at the table talking, and not because of Ferguson [Mo.] and not because of Baltimore," she said referring to the racily-charged police shootings in those communities.
The consequences of those deadly attacks result in some violent protests — which she illustrated with photographs. He slide-show presentation also included the country's reality of the racial divide with its roots in slavery, as she showed African-American slaves in shackles and one with scar-ridden back from multiple beatings.
The photos under the heading of "perception" elicited the most diverse responses on how they represent race relations.
One showed a middle-aged white police officer embracing a black woman that resulted in multiple interpretations from cynical to hopeful.
"That is the sort of image white America wants to see," said one gentleman from the audience.
"Why should we only have images of violence," a woman quickly retorted.
Sholes-Ross didn't put the photo in context, but felt, "that slide gives us a sense of hopefulness."
Yet, the reverend is realistic the current state of American race relations, at times, may require one to swallow his/her pride.
She recalled the time her and her husband were traveling the back roads of Louisiana — the husband driving — when the couple was pulled over by a white police officer. As the lawman inquired about their destination, Sholes-Ross said she went into protection mode, fearing for her husband, as the officer constantly had his hand on his holstered gun, Instead of touting that she is a minister with a "standing connection" to the governor and mayor of New Orleans, Sholes-Ross simply explained they were on their way to the next county to visit a relative. He promised not to cause them trouble and let them pass.
"I did what I had to do to save my husband," she said.
Sickened by the incident, Sholes-Ross' husband later pulled the car over so his wife could throw up.
"Would I do the same thing again, 'Yes,'" she told the audience. "Should I have been subjected to the stop,'No.'"
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233