A group of clergy members and residents has come together to start a frank discussion about race in an effort to promote better relationships in town.
The Clergy, Chaplains and Missionaries of Wake Forest, an interdenominational Christian group of religious leaders, organized the “It’s Time” forum to talk about ways to promote racial harmony in the community. The group’s second meeting is set for Thursday.
“We began to look at some of the situations going on in the country, like Ferguson,” said Enoch Holloway, pastor at Friendship Chapel Baptist Church. “We began to realize that it was time for us and our community to come together and to deal with some of those situations.”
A grand jury did not indict a white police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo., last summer. The incident sparked sometimes-violent protests in the St. Louis suburb.
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The local forums aren’t meant to address a specific incident or issue in Wake Forest. They are an attempt to make sure the town avoids a polarizing event like the one in Missouri.
“It’s a group of people who care deeply about not allowing Wake Forest to be ground zero for the next racially charged incident in America,” said Walter Strickland, a theology instructor at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Holloway said race relations aren’t bad in Wake Forest. But they could become strained if left unchecked, he said.
“We potentially have the ability for those kinds of things to happen if we’re not proactive and come together and do whatever we can do to prevent such things,” Holloway said.
Wake Forest has about 25,000 white residents and fewer than 5,000 African-American residents, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey.
At the first “It’s Time” event, on Jan. 22, about 100 peoplecame up with 12 strategies for fostering better relationships among all Wake Forest residents.
Most of the suggested strategies focused on individual actions – being nice to people, accepting their neighbors. But several called on Wake Forest police to play a role.
The group suggested the creation of a citizen’s review board for the police department. It also pushed for promoting diversity in the department and encouraging officers to spend more time getting to know neighborhoods on a personal level.
Mayor Vivian Jones spoke at the first “It’s Time” event, highlighting efforts the police department already has in place to reach out to the community.
“We have a very well-trained police department,” Jones said. “Our police officers work very hard in the community to have good relationships.”
Wake Forest Police Jeff Leonard could not be reached for comment.
Members of the group are also encouraging each other to reach out. One idea is for each member to invite another member to dinner.
Holloway, 67, said a similar arrangement was created in the 1990s among four local churches.
“It was really cleansing,” he said. “It was eye-opening for both parties.”
Strategies like that are simple but effective, Strickland said. The group doesn’t have to do anything groundbreaking.
“It’s just getting to know people who are different than us, understanding that our lived experience is not the only lived experience in America,” he said.
Want to get involved?
The next “It’s Time” event is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 26, at The Forks Cafeteria, 339 Brooks St., Wake Forest. Tickets are free and can be picked up at participating churches, the YMCA, the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce and the Wake Forest Rotary Club. Attendees are asked to purchase dinner at The Forks during the meeting.