So, I opened this email invitation to the first session of Dallas’ four-part series called “Conversations About Race.” The initiative is co-chaired by Dallas City Councilman Dwaine Caraway, Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia.
Why did I go? Maybe because I live in this highly diverse neighborhood, Lake Highlands. And maybe I was still troubled by our latest cultural Rorschach on race, the Zimmerman trial.
For some reason I expected a well-mannered presentation that would give attendees philosophical nuggets to ponder. But activists saw it differently. Before entering the Dallas City Performance Hall downtown, attendees walked past demonstrators who educated us about the death of Santos Rodriguez, a Latino teen shot by a Dallas policeman 40 years ago.
The event was well-attended (about 300 people), and the crowd was diverse — with whites in the minority. In his opening remarks, Caraway mentioned that anyone who became disruptive would be escorted out. (That seemed a bit harsh.) Just before the planned program, Caraway introduced our own District 10 councilman, Jerry Allen. I was surprised, but why? So often, Allen and I seem to blaze the same trail.
The topic was media’s role in portraying race. Six panelists from local media did their best to respond, despite frequent outbursts from the audience, which included protestors affiliated with the group outside (they had their say and were escorted out); various shouts from the audience either asking questions or answering them; and one man attempting to divert the conversation to the virtues of showing ID before voting.
Ultimately, Rawlings delivered the planned apology for the death of Santos Rodriguez. Once the applause died down, he set the stage for future sessions. Rawlings said we need to “move from a calcification of classification, to recognizing the differences within our differences … I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned as mayor: It is an unbelievable spectrum, going from weird colors to bright colors, you name it.”
Afterward, I wandered outside and paused to watch the demonstrators basking in the afterglow of the mayor’s apology. The last thing I expected was that someone might speak to me.
“Let me ask you something.”
She was an African-American woman with gray hair. “Why’d you come?” she said.
I was speechless. I had come because race relations today seem hopelessly mired in complication and mistrust, and I wish we could find a way out of our “calcification,” to use the mayor’s word. I can write that now, but I was tongue-tied at the time.
“I’m trying to put myself in your place,” the lady, Barbara Record, said to me. “I’m thinking, I’m white, everything’s good for me, why would I come out here on a Saturday?”
“I don’t feel like everything is OK,” I said. I stumbled through some words about how our schools in Richardson ISD are integrated, but it didn’t seem to be enough. I learned she was a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School. She and I eventually parted ways with smiles on our faces.
A few days later, I called Jerry Allen to ask him why he was involved with the series.
“I was there to support Dwaine Caraway in this endeavor,” Allen said. “He and I have a lot of respect for each other.”
From reading the paper, you’d never know our council members ever work together on anything. But Rawlings had made that exact point about the media’s reporting of race-related issues. Too often, media thrive on conflict.
“Are we perfect? No,” Allen said of District 10. “Are we doing our best and getting better? I think so.”
Allen believes that talk will only take us so far. Real progress comes from action. He said he sees positive action daily in our local schools and after-school programs.
“For me, it’s simple,” he said. “It all comes down to the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The next session is planned for Saturday, Dec. 7 at City Hall council chambers. A session especially for youth is set for Dec. 21 at Dallas Performance Hall.
“Young people think about things differently,” Rawlings noted at the presentation. “And if we believe in diversity, we’ve got to have young people in the conversation.”
Visit dallascityhall.com for more details.