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Race Talk In Cleveland

Dr. Akram Boutros addresses YWCA "It's Time To Talk" forum
Dr. Akram Boutros addresses YWCA "It's Time To Talk" forum

About 350 people attended the luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel. In table-side conversation and in the keynote address they heard about the discomfort and difficulty that comes with honest conversation about race. There may be "layers of elephants in the room," including unstated assumptions about others, said Margaret Mitchell, the YWCA's CEO.

MITCHELL: "And when we can suspend the baggage that we bring into the conversation enough to get to know each other, then we can begin to chip away. And you have to practice not taking your baggage in."

Workers may be reluctant to be in this conversation - sometimes out of fear what might happen if they get too honest - but Mitchell said that shouldn't stop the willing from getting the ball rolling. The YWCA has trained about 60 facilitators to assist in these conversations, if requested. "They are the seasoning in the sauce," Mitchell said.

The CEO of MetroHealth, Dr. Akram Boutros, said there should be no finger-pointing in these workplace conversations about race.

BOUTROS: "So we can't have an honest conversation if we begin blaming one another, and if we're going to assign blame, everyone, irrespective of who you are, you're culpable."

Boutros, the keynote speaker at the forum, told his own story as a member of a religious minority in Egypt, the country of his birth. After the family moved to America, Boutros said he was a bullied teen who was on the verge of joining a gang to gain acceptance. Then a near-death experience and a message from a dying man turned him in a totally different direction. "He gave me an opportunity," Boutros told the rapt audience. Talking about race is important, Boutros said, but actually doing something to give someone different an opportunity is the bigger challenge.