‘We have to choose to grow together’

Lewis O. Powell IV Staff Writer

September 10, 2013

The LaGrange Humanists sponsored a forum on racism in LaGrange at LaGrange Memorial Library Monday night.

Several political candidates and office holders attended, including City Councilman LeGree McCamey, mayoral candidates Jimmy McCamey and Mike Smith, and city council candidate Dr. Tom Gore. Joining them were a handful of residents, LaGrange College political science professor John Tures and some of his students.

While the subject of racism is often fraught with divisive bitterness, the discussion was calm, though spirited. Smith, who led the discussion, laid the subject out into three separate parts: history of racism in LaGrange, current racism here and solutions to those problems.

“We like to talk about things and think about things like this,” Smith said.

The discussion of history ranged from the near-enslavement of African-Americans after the Civil War through the 20th century – as discussed in Douglas Blackmon’s book, “Slavery by Another Name” – to the Supreme Court recently striking down parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

One participant said, “there’s an untold history that’s not being shared.”

Once the discussion centered on the subject of incidents of modern racism, other related areas began to steal focus, like issues of class divisions and poverty. The participants looked at how these issues seem to appear in mundane areas like utility service, building codes and housing. The discussion also veered to the recent shooting at Calumet Park.

The issue of education also took the floor with participants speaking about student punishment, over-reliance on testing and arts education.

Finally, they brainstormed potential solutions. One participant suggested a cultural heritage festival for the city — an event that would bring together the best of the many ethnic and cultural groups present in the area.

Overall, the simple solution of coming together and talking about the differences, seemed to be the consensus.

“It would start to help us if we could meet regularly,” Smith said.

Towards the end of the nearly two-hour discussion, NAACP member Nathan Gaskin said, “we have to choose to grow together.”