Archive | July 2015

Town Hall Meeting: A Conversation on Racism & Safety

On Thursday, July 23, 2015, the African Methodist Episcopal Churches of Greater Austin, Texas, collaborated with other groups & individuals to organize a Town Hall meeting at the Grant Worship Center, 1701 Kramer Ln., Austin, TX.  About a hundred and twenty-five people attended.

Representatives of the clergy who played various roles in the meeting were as follows:  Rev. Michael Coffee (First English Lutheran Church), Rev. Matthew T. Seddon (St. John’s Episcopal Church), Rev. Sylvester D. Patton III (Grant AME Worship Center), Rev. N. Jordan Mkwanazi (Metropolitan AME Church), & Judith Liro (St. Hildegard’s Epicscopal Church, Austin, TX).

There were greetings from the City of Austin, and Art Acevedo, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting, but sent one of his assistants; reflections were given on Sandra Bland by Rev. Dr. Mark Washington.

Sandra Bland, an African American, Texas student was  routinely stopped by an officer from the Texas State Patrol recently; when the officer ordered her to put out her cigarette and step out of the car, she responded, ‘You’re telling me to put out my cigarette in my own car?’  With this apparent challenge to his authority, the officer pulled her from her car, and arrested her.

The Texas State Troopers tried to cover this up, to keep it silent, and away from the press, attempting to shield their department from any malfeasance or responsibility; there will be an investigation into the Bland incident, because she hung herself in a jail cell three days after the arrest. A very sad death and a low state of affairs for law enforcement professionals who have had a very poor track record in 2015 for police brutality & use of force.

As the meeting continued, other speakers were David Harrell (Senior Regional Representative from Church Mutual, Inc. Co.), Renee Lafair (Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League), Mirella Rodriguez & a Mr. Kelley (special agents with the FBI), a Captain with APD (please forgive that I couldn’t get his name), & Nelson Linder (President, NAACP, Austin Chapter).

A panel presentation followed, after which the participants broke up into working groups; their task was to look at two questions, take notes, and report back to the main group.

The two questions were:

  1. What are tangible steps we can take to build relationships & trust between law enforcement, the judicial system, and community members?
  2. What are three tangible things we can do to build strong personal relationships here as diverse groups & as individuals united by a cause?

Each group came back to the main group, and the groups’ recommendations will be compiled, and made available for interested people & the public.

I’m very grateful and have a lot of respect for the AME Churches that took this step so the conversation on race continues; churches, in my opinion, need to step out of the church and into the marketplace & the streets of the community; hopefully, other groups, perhaps nonprofits, business, educational and social justice organizations will follow this lead.  Each one of us is a change agent, so we have a personal responsibility to engage in this conversation.

As a white male I feel a very strong & powerful energy to keep the momentum going; after all, the white-structured power system must be changed by the European Americans, with advice from other groups of color, who started it and have been enriched by racism.  Sadly, sometimes other whites will only listen to other whites.

This conversation, however, is much bigger than the sum of all of us; an anti-racism project demands a multi-diverse mission, mindset and political action.  In just a few years, Texas will become a state that has a majority percentage of persons of color (mainly African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latina Americans). The demographic is already in flux and will change.

The next Town Hall Meeting will be held again at the Grant Worship Center, 1701 Kramer Ln., Austin, TX 78758, from 7:00-9:00PM.  Another suggestion would be to Google “AME Churches of Greater Austin” to find more information on this conversation.

The mix of the audience were the elderly, middle-aged and younger people so we are doing this interaction through these generations-an inter-generational dialogue.  We all can breathe in the spirit & essence of MLK, Jr.’s non-violent resistance, and in this way become alive again.  To do what?  To ensure that this conversation won’t be sabotaged, and will continue for the benefit of all residents of Austin.

©Christopher Bear-Beam July 24, 2015