Local leaders reflect on racial justice challenges on MLK Day

On Thursday, the United States House of Representatives passed the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. The bill includes calls for voter access, election integrity, civic participation and empowerment, among other issues. He will go before the Senate, where many expect him to stall for a second year.

“The (Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act) must pass if America is to honor the promissory note that Dr. King told us about; it is still due,” White said. “Even though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights organizers and activists lost their lives for the right to vote, we are still here to advocate, push and proclaim that everyone has the right to vote, and to vote without coercion or stress, and without having to encounter obstacles and barriers,” she said.

Besides the right to vote, local leaders are focusing on several other issues in their drive for racial justice.

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A protest event that began at the Federal Building in downtown Dayton on Saturday, May 30, 2020, moved to the Jones Street and Wayne Avenue area, where police blocked marchers from entering the United States. United 35 using pepper spray balls and a line of officers. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

A protest event that began at the Federal Building in downtown Dayton on Saturday, May 30, 2020, moved to the Jones Street and Wayne Avenue area, where police blocked marchers from entering the United States. United 35 using pepper spray balls and a line of officers.  MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF
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A protest event that began at the Federal Building in downtown Dayton on Saturday, May 30, 2020, moved to the Jones Street and Wayne Avenue area, where police blocked marchers from entering the United States. United 35 using pepper spray balls and a line of officers. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

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Dayton School Board President Will Smith, 38, is used to working on criminal justice campaigns and fighting for things like food equity and neighborhood health and wellness. He said many of the same issues have persisted over the years – inequalities in education and school funding, poverty, community/police relations, incarceration rates and infant mortality rates, among others.

“I think an important thing is to recognize that a lot of these issues are rooted not just in Dayton but nationally, especially when you look at urban centers,” he said. “These things aren’t really new, but I think over the last two years things like COVID have really exposed a lot of these inequalities.”

Smith said he’s noticed a more recent shift from the idea of ​​achieving equality to a long-term goal of fairness.

“It’s about ‘We’re here’ and we can’t achieve equity because we’re not even seen as equals yet,” he said.

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Will Smith has served on the Dayton City Schools Board of Education since January 2020.

Will Smith has served on the Dayton City Schools Board of Education since January 2020.
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Will Smith has served on the Dayton City Schools Board of Education since January 2020.

Fairness or fairness under the law remains a big issue, and Smith said he’s seen the renewed focus on community-police relations.

Chaz Amos, 19, founder and director of the I Love West Dayton initiative, believes the issue of community-police relations remains a focus. He said the case of Clifford Owensby, a paraplegic man from Dayton who was dragged from his vehicle by police during a traffic stop in September, has heightened the tension.

“DPD came out this week to state that the officers did (not violate department policies), but it’s almost like they’re trying to assuage that statement by saying there were finds of wrongdoing, so we’re still lacking that full transparency of reality to see what’s going on in decision-making before we come out with things like that,” Amos said.

Part of the problem with police relations stems from the low number of black police officers, Amos said, noting that DPD employs nearly 400 police officers, less than 30 of whom are black.

“You have white officers who serve a predominantly black community, who live in Beavercreek, Xenia, Centerville, and when (they) come here to work, what could possibly motivate or inspire them to take care of people that you’ll serve them and treat them with respect? ” he said.

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Chaz Amos is the founder and director of the I Love West Dayton initiative.

Chaz Amos is the founder and director of the I Love West Dayton initiative.
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Chaz Amos is the founder and director of the I Love West Dayton initiative.

Amos’ work with the I Love West Dayton initiative focuses primarily on neighborhood cleanup and illegal dumping with a mission to “build clean neighborhoods for generations to come.”

“I think of kids growing up and seeing this; they internalize it,” he said.

A neighborhood free of garbage dumps, along with things like paving sidewalks and storm drains, as well as updated parks and playgrounds, are factors that can make all the difference, Amos said. .

“Then when you have these kids coming in to school every day and playing, they’re enjoying that nice environment,” he said. “At this point, I’m not focusing on people who are stuck in their ways and littering; I try to reach the rising generation, because if we have a generation that comes to a clean West Dayton, they may not have the most money, but they can live in a decent neighborhood.

Smith said that in recent years he has noticed more and more young people working to solve community issues, calling it “a key part of moving forward.”

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On Wednesday, community members gathered for a Black Lives Matter Dayton rally near the old NAACP building in the 1500 block of West Third Street. Organizers said the rally was to be held in concert with other groups across the country to protest the killing of black men and women by police. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

On Wednesday, community members gathered for a Black Lives Matter Dayton rally near the old NAACP building in the 1500 block of West Third Street.  Organizers said the rally was to be held in concert with other groups across the country to protest the killing of black men and women by police.  JIM NOELKER/STAFF
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On Wednesday, community members gathered for a Black Lives Matter Dayton rally near the old NAACP building in the 1500 block of West Third Street. Organizers said the rally was to be held in concert with other groups across the country to protest the killing of black men and women by police. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

White noted that the Dayton Unit NAACP has several programs to enable children and young adults to become actively involved in the organization.

“We have a curriculum that fosters leadership…and also to prepare them, as they reach adulthood, to be ready to step up to advocate for causes that affect everyone’s civil rights,” she said. declared.

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Smith said new leaders will need to foster relationships, especially in a technology-driven world.

“We have this information age where people can come together in different ways, and it’s important to make sure we use that, but remember talking to people and meeting people is also important” , did he declare.

Equally crucial, Smith said, is for people to recognize the progress that has been made and remember those “victories” as they look to the future.

“Over the generations we have seen progress and we have seen loss which then makes the next generation feel that no progress has been made because we are not focused enough on how to maintain our victories, and I think that’s the key to moving forward,” he said.

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Springfield rally for George Floyd. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Springfield rally for George Floyd.  MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF
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Springfield rally for George Floyd. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Elna M. Lemons