“Harrison doesn’t have a race problem; we have an image problem” began Rotarian Layne Ragsdale as she made the presentation on the Harrison Task Force on Race Relations at the recent Rotary Club meeting.
In 2003, mayor, Bob Reynolds formed a Task Force on Race Relations and many of the leaders at that time were local ministers. The issue before them was to face the reality that, outside of Harrison, the perception of Harrison was that it is “a racist community, a sundown community.”
Research indicated that no other community was planning what the Task Force was facing, so they were starting with a blank slate. They agreed: “We know Harrison as a community where people of all races can live work and worship together in peace and harmony and we envision a time when our community is perceived the same by all.”
They created a mission statement — “Our purpose is to respond to the inaccurate, negative image of Harrison as a racist community and foster and promote the image and reality of Harrison as a cohesive, warm community to all people of peace and goodwill, regardless of race.”
People from inside and outside ask, “How do you sustain a conversation for that long?” and the reply is simple: “Stay true to your mission; prepare your community; proceed with respect and civility.”
In today’s world the hate groups are changing their methods to being perceived as kinder, gentler hate groups. A YouTube video posted by white supremacists states: “Violence doesn’t work. We need a consistent, professionally prepared message to use over and over.” Another site focuses on “Stop white genocide; whites will drop to 8 percent worldwide by 2060 if multi racialism continues. Africa for Africans, Asia for the Asians, Israel is a state for the Jews, white countries for everybody.”
“In the face of these messages, we continue to proceed with respect and civility.
“We should do nothing that would keep an opponent from becoming a supporter.”
Ragsdale shared that at a presentation to Harrison High School students were asked: “Is our community racist? One of the best answers was, “There are a minority of people who live in our community who are racists. However, that fact doesn’t make us a racist community. It’s very important that the other people in our community speak out and not let the racists individuals define our entire community based on their beliefs.”
Layne pointed out, “People are changed by their experiences; let our message be positive.” While Harrison has, as Mike Masterson pointed out in his article in the Democrat Gazette, “been hit again” in reference to the billboard on Highway 65, our response, as seen in the ad in the Harrison Daily Times is “Love your neighbor.” Proceed with respect and civility.
New Members Wendy Michel and Tom Perkins were inducted into the Harrison Rotary Club.
President Terry Stambaugh concluded by inviting everyone in the community to the Rotary Peace Forum at 6.30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18 at the Durand Center. Admission is Free. “It promises to be a special evening for all who attend.”