Learning to bridge racism
For a variety of reasons they live in Berkshire County. For one reason they gathered at Shakespeare & Company on Saturday.
They wanted to talk about racism.
At the event organized by BRIDGE and the Multicultural Task Force, more than 100 people of diverse backgrounds discussed racism, its effects and its possible cures.
"The idea is really to talk together and build new bridges," said Amy Albert, a representative of the community services division of the U.S. Department of Justice. "It's about context and how people perceive you. For example, being from Cuba makes me a part of the Berkshires."
For a short period, the group talked about their backgrounds, and what it means in America. For those that come from other countries, that meaning can change, Albert noted.
Shirley Edgerton, director of Youth Alive and member of the Multicultural Task Force, encouraged cultural awareness.
"You guys should see yourselves," she said gazing at the many faces looking back at her. "You're beautiful -- a mosaic. We are so diverse, and there are so many reason why it is important to be multicultural here in the Berkshires."
Samuel R. Miller, a renowned civil rights attorney, described the various kinds of institutional discrimination and its effects, and some victories in fighting it.
And while some progress has been made through litigation, he said, there is a better way.
"You can't really change people by hitting them over the head with a lawsuit," Miller said. "It takes cultural change, figuring out new ways to make lasting change."
Local educator Homer L. Meade II spoke about the election of America's first African American president.
"For some, the election of Barack Obama meant that, as Dr. Martin Luther King predicted, ‘we have overcome,'" he said. "For many in the international community, it meant a maturity had been reached in America. But for some, the realization of their deepest fears had come to pass."
Meade went through some of the many definitions of racism, and how it can be addressed.
"There are ways to get to it and it has to be through education," he said. "My thrust is to make sure there are culturally responsive teachers in the classrooms. A culturally responsive teacher makes any lesson available to all."
The gathering broke up into groups, to talk about racism, its effects and how to address it. They will meet for a few weeks and gather again in November to derive an action plan to increase communication across cultural divisions and reduce the causes for racism in Berkshire County.
But before they went to their group discussion, Meade express a note of encouragement, by paraphrasing W.E.B. Du Bois.
"Life is long and change comes slowly, but this is one of the places where change has been affected," he said.
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