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Awareness of Racism Sparks a Conversation in Downtown Akron

Conversatons at Quaker Square
The "It's Time to Talk: Forums on Race" in Akron

A public discussion called “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race” drew a sell-out crowd at Quaker Square in Akron Wednesday.  It also involved the revival of a meeting format long used by Native Americansto assure democratic group conversations.

Talking circle made by stringing buckeyes on a cord
A "talking circles" used to foster conversation

Three hundred and fifty local leaders and citizens took seats in small groups at round tables.  And, as with many ancient tribal meetings where a talking stick or similar object passed in turn to each, who then spoke his or her mind, each table at the Akron meeting had a bracelet-like “talking circle” of buckeyes strung on a cord.   

Photo of Jacqueline Debose and Lenda Smith
Jacqueline Debose and Lenda Smith

Attendees Jacqueline Debose and Lenda Smith say that worked.  “I really like the passing of the circle because it really gave everybody an equal opportunity to speak.” “And from that we were than able to think about how we can contribute to making a difference in our community.”

Akron Urban League, Temple Israel, and the YMCA of Greater Cleveland sponsored the forums with the goal of expanding awareness of racism through open conversation. 

The event’s keynote speaker was retired Cuyahoga Community College President Jerry Sue Thornton.  She said the forums help to begin a search for solutions by fostering self-awareness regarding racism.  

Thornton says recognizing racism is the first step

“We begin to view the world through a different lens.  We can turn the dial.  We can have not only the conversations with each other, but we can have those tough conversations with ourselves.”

Organizers say with the sellout response to this first Forums event in Akron, they’ll likely sponsor several more in the area this year.