Action needed: Racism is real in Rochester

Racism is a threat to the Rochester community and corrective action is needed.

That is the view of Victor O. Lewis, an internationally known speaker on racial issues who conducted a two-day program in Rochester last weekend.

Lewis addressed an audience of 190 people Friday night and conducted an all-day training session on Saturday. Both were held at Willow Creek Middle School.

Plans for the sessions were developed earlier this year by members of Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester after they started an Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circle. They chose Lewis as a speaker because of his extensive experience in the field.

He is director of the Center for Diversity Leadership, which conducts training in human relations and helped to produce "The Color of Fear," an award-winning documentary film on race relations.


Lewis said the number of racial minorities living in Rochester is going to increase and it is time for an organized program to deal with this issue. To do so fairly, he said, we need to recognize that all human beings have needs that must be met.

He indicated that a major problem in dealing with racism is that its painful effects are felt principally by African Americans and other people of color and not by members of the white majority who are in a better position to do something about it.

New groups have been formed in the city recently to deal with that issue. Those groups include Peace United Church of Christ’s Anti-Racism Study Dialogue Circle and a new organization called StandUP! whose mission is "to create an inclusive and welcoming community in Rochester by serving as a catalyst and clearinghouse for anti-racism activities."

StandUP’s goal is "a vibrant interactive multicultural community with many simultaneously running activities wherein community members cross cultural boundaries, actively participate in anti-racism education and activities and educate themselves about those who are different from themselves."

It urges Rochester residents to take the initiative in starting a neighborhood dialogue group in creating an inclusive community, starting a book reading group on anti-racism, joining a Racial Justice task force, creating a neighborhood welcoming committee and other ways to become better informed on the subject. The organization was started by Estelle Souchet and Char Kunkel.

In the Saturday training program, attended by about 80 people, Lewis showed parts of the "Color of Fear" documentary to illustrate the fact that many white people are not aware of the cruel effects inflicted on minorities by racist attitudes.

The film depicts a discussion about racial relations by a group of a dozen men, including two white men and 10 members of minorities including African Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese and others. The film was produced in California about 18 years ago.

One the white men is quoted as insisting that there are no racial problems in his small California town. The minority members argue that he believes that because he has so little contact with any of the minorities that he is totally unaware of their problems, Minority members of the panel continue to describe their painful experiences in the community, but the white member is still unconvinced.


Finally, the African American member launches a prolonged and angry verbal attack on the white member’s views that expresses all the frustrations that the minority members have felt. That angry speech was delivered by Lewis himself, who was a member of the group.

In the Saturday training program, Lewis used segments of the "Color of Fear" film to demonstrate to the audience that it is necessary to become better informed about the painful effects of racism in order to deal with the problem constructively.

The two-day program offered convincing evidence that there is a definite need for constructive programs to combat racism in Rochester as well as evidence that such programs can offer long-term benefits to everyone concerned.  

The sponsors of the program included Peace United Church of Christ and four other local churches, the Rochester Diversity Council, the NAACP, Rochester Public Schools, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way, and the Rochester branch of the University of Minnesota. Twenty-one area businesses made financial contributions to the program.

Bill Boyne is a retired editor and publisher of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears weekly.

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