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What can we do to combat racism? Local experts weigh in

Sharon Lynette Jones, professor of English language and literature at Wright State University/ CONTRIBUTED
Sharon Lynette Jones, professor of English language and literature at Wright State University/ CONTRIBUTED

As protests continued across the Dayton region, Ohio and the country this past week, many people have wondered what could be done to combat the systemic racism motivating the movement.

Thousands showed up for protests all across the Miami Valley, triggered by police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. But for many who have joined the growing groundswell, his death represents generations of injustice that goes beyond relations with law enforcement.

RELATED: How did we get here? Experts: Long history of racial injustice in U.S.

So the Dayton Daily News asked five area experts for their recommendations on what the Dayton region and the nation could do to make a difference. Their comments are in their own words, with some edited for length.

The conversation with these experts also included an in-depth examination of how we got here as a society. Read about that history and how it’s shaped where we are today in Monday’s paper on the Ideas & Voices page.

Lawrence Burnley

Vice president of diversity and inclusion at the University of Dayton

• From a leadership standpoint, I would start with education, developing curricula that introduces our kids at a very early age, to a more nuanced and complex understanding of our history from multiple perspectives. We need to hear a woman’s take on this, we need to hear other African Americans and other Latinx and Native Americans. We need to hear these different perspectives, truly modeling inclusion in curriculum, helping students think critically. We need to revise teacher education and requirements, even to have the honor of being in the classroom. We need to take a look at that because we continue to graduate people who all they’re doing is reinforcing the dominant narrative that’s perpetuating persistent educational outcome gaps.

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• We need to have requirements for professional development across the workforce and education to be in these spaces. We have something at UD called Inclusive Excellence Academy. This is a professional development platform for faculty, staff and administration, and we’re inviting people to come into these spaces for a deep-dive in addressing issues such as implicit bias, inclusive pedagogy, race and sexism. However, an employee can opt out of those conversations in this current climate and still advance. We have to move from invitation to expectation. Private industry, in their efforts in addressing diversity and inclusion, I would argue, is motivated by them seeing how this work around diverse teams can impact in a positive way the bottom line. It’s maddening. It’s like, if you want to work here, you got to do this. So I think we have to move on to expectations for people to enter into these spaces, and senior administration leaders need to have a model.

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• We have to develop the capacity to engage in what some would call inter-group dialogue to have these conversations. This is very difficult work, and we have to be able to keep people at the table to manage it. I like truth and reconciliation efforts around the world, in South Africa and other places. We can learn a lot in terms of how to create spaces where the truths from multiple perspectives are heard, with the goal of achieving justice. People push back on this term reconciliation, and I get it, it presupposes that at some point we were into conciliation. But the spirit behind it is how do we develop the capacity, both in private and in public spaces, to engage in these conversations?

RELATED:  Demonstrators gather in Yellow Springs to protest death of George Floyd

• With regard to the issue of racial justice within the context of policing, it’s going to take policing and the law enforcement and the legal system themselves to hold law enforcement officers at a higher standard. They have to be prosecuted. They have to be prosecuted in ways that are congruent and consistent with how others are prosecuted. I don’t know what it’s going to take to do that, to be honest with you. But I do know that as Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will.” It’s going to take organized, coordinated coalition building and protest. I have a job here (at UD) as the vice president of diversity and inclusion. I have this job not because administrators woke up one day and said this is the right thing to do. There’s a history, so that we have Latinx and Native American studies and African American studies, gender studies. I’m here because students protested on campuses across the country, and they demanded that they need to see themselves in the curriculum, there needs to be more inclusion. But having the ability to do that in a way that’s smart, that’s peaceful. I am opposed to the violence, and I realize that some of the violence we’re seeing is coming from outside influences. So we have to be smart and wise, and develop the protocols and processes so those disruptive forces can be identified and eliminated.

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Sharon Lynette Jones

Professor of English language and literature at Wright State University

• People can reach out to organizations. Often times, people don’t feel comfortable doing that, but there are different civil rights organizations that people could try to become a member of. My experience is a lot of organizations are very happy to have people volunteer.

There are a lot of people practicing social distancing now, as we should, because of the (COVID-19) pandemic. But there are all kinds of ways in which people could engage in social justice activism through social media and groups that are working and advocating in that particular manner.

• People have to keep in mind that it’s important to hold elected officials accountable. So really do your research in terms of what their stance is related to issues of how people are treated by the police or issues that are related to social and economic justice.

• It’s important to not make generalizations about other people. Certainly, there are people in law enforcement who are committed to social justice. We know there have been cases of people in law enforcement whose actions have been really counter to that. But keep in mind the importance of working with other people, and having a recognition that there are people out there who are protesting who just want everything to be better, to be equitable for everybody.

RELATED: Protesters in Huber Heights denounce racism and police brutality

Robert J. Clark

History professor at Cedarville University

• Police training needs to be improved. I do think that hiring practices, especially in American cities, need to constantly be reviewed for the number of ethnic minorities and the diversity of the police forces, which is crucial. I think people, whether it be gender or whether it be ethnic background or whatever, need to be seen in leadership roles. This has made a huge difference in parts of the country with how people have responded to a clash between protesters and police or whether it's turned into rioting. It's really important that we make a clear distinction between legitimate protests and that which is hijacked by violent rioters. Sometimes those things are — I wouldn't want to speak authoritatively on this — but sometimes we fear that there are some violent criminal elements that are taking advantage of these circumstances to wreak havoc. And it's really important that we not connect those in a way that disparages legitimate protests or paint them with the same brush.

• People talking to people — communications between authorities, listening and communicating with those who are struggling and disgruntled — is productive.

• Serious justice, judicial actions against police officers who break societal norms and behave in violent ways toward people they’re supposed to protect — these people need to face more aggressive prosecution. But I think also that we have to do so with the same degree of due process that all Americans deserve, no matter what their skin tone is or what their circumstances are in terms of poverty or wealth.

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Liza Abram Benham

Political science professor at Central State University

• The most effective way to make sure that we have no more (police killings) is to use this moment to mount a change like what happened with Rosa Parks (who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus, bringing attention to the Civil Rights Movement) so that we start the ball rolling toward much more fundamental and long lasting change.

• Use public policy to reverse the trend of filling jails and prisons with black people.

Work with groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus and other legislators and organizations that are familiar with black issues to craft legislation.

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Michael Carter

Senior adviser to the president and chief diversity officer at Sinclair Community College

• We have to have an open and honest dialogue about (race). One thing that we oftentimes refuse to do is have this open, honest raw discussion about race relations, or the lack thereof. It’s something in America that we’ve done for a long period of time — we’ve tried to pretend that these issues don’t exist.

• Something else that would go a long way is the acknowledgement of injustices. Acknowledgement of injustice goes a long way in healing, and I think also, in America we have a difficult time acknowledging injustices that had been perpetrated.

• We’ve got to fight this idea of anti-intellectualism. We’ve got to fight the inclination that not being informed is cool, and even that every form of information is the same. There are some things that are out there that just aren’t true and we have to call them out for what they are. There’s been a reluctance to do that.

• It’s important to be on the right side of history. We talked about Birmingham, Alabama, protesters being sprayed with fire hoses and dogs (attacking them). (Then Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner) Bull Connor, in that moment, was applauded. Today he’s seen as a clown, he’s seen as a joke. So it’s being on the right side of history. We have a revisionist history that Muhammad Ali was a beloved figure. Muhammad Ali wasn’t beloved until he had Parkinson’s disease. But he’s on the right side of history. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a beloved figure, and now we’ve created this idea that he was beloved. He was not. But he was on the right side of history.