More representation of minority teachers and employees in the Jefferson City Public Schools and local businesses was the top priority residents said they wanted to address Monday at the Faith Voices for Jefferson City meeting.
The local faith-based organization hosted "Healing Racism: From Chaos to Community" at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church to continue discussions on racial issues in the community. Over the last year, Faith Voices for Jefferson City organized meetings to discuss local racial issues, and on Monday, the group discussed steps toward action.
"This is something that has been needed in the Jefferson City community for a long time because this is a situation that is an ongoing and needs to be corrected," Jefferson City resident Lynne Johnson said. "We don't want history to keep repeating. We want to stop that and it's time for a change, and I think this is going to make that change."
The meeting was one of several on a similar topic in the community. There have been two community town hall meetings, and the Jefferson City Public Schools will host the first of its own diversity discussion series from 6-8 p.m. tonight at the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City.
A racially insensitive photo last month involving three Jefferson City High School students spurred the community town hall meetings and the school district's diversity discussions. Michelle Scott-Huffman, president of Faith Voices for Jefferson City, said the photo was not the focus of Monday's meeting, though; it was about addressing local racial issues that have been in the community for years.
After a four-person panel discussed their experiences with subliminal, environmental and institutional racism, the audience dispersed into six small groups, discussing their own stories and thoughts. Out of those groups, actions like creating a minority liaison team with the school district and working on neighborhood issues were among the top suggestions. The No. 1 action, though, was encouraging more representation among the school district and local businesses.
To help spur action, audience members wrote their contact information on the back of papers that stated different action plans. Scott-Huffman said the next step is for Faith Voices to connect people so they can create their own groups and address local issues.
"I think we can talk and talk and talk and nothing could change from 1967 to 2017, or we can take actual action steps and see if we can find some transformation," she said.
Ward 5 City Councilman Larry Henry sat in one of the small groups, listening to Jefferson City residents describe their experiences. He said both the town hall meetings and those organized by Faith Voices are progressing toward addressing racial issues in the community.
"At each one of these meetings, there's more progression, and you get more testimonies and stories from people who aren't minorities speaking out and giving their stories. And that becomes really important as you try to bring an entire community together," he said. "This is really important to our city, how it's perceived, how we're looked at in terms of these type of issues. It plays a major role, and I think everybody recognizes how important this is and that it affects everyone."
One action item that several audience members and panelists encouraged is discouraging racism with children. Several residents said they've heard children say racial slurs, and parents should not shrug off these incidents.
Patsy Johnson, one of Monday's panelists, said by educating children, along with the adults, that will impact future generations and give them choices on how they want to live.
Lincoln University senior Kendall Martinez-Wright spoke about different experiences he has had in Jefferson City and said he agreed to be a panelist because he wanted the younger generation, particularly students, to have a voice in these discussions.
"I'm glad there are people who are willing to listen to a young person's perspective on these things because I think people think, 'Oh, you're just 20-something and you haven't experienced anything,'" he said. "I've lived in two different places and I've witnessed interactions, and I know what it's like to experience judgment and prejudice. LU students need to have a voice be heard because we're such an important part in this city and state, so I thought they needed to have that voice be heard and let people know what is going on with them."