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Eighty citizens, including many community leaders, gathered Tuesday night for the second public forum held on the formation of a community relations coalition to be known as “Danville United.”
While that number was greater than the initial meeting on July 31, former mayor Sam Kushner cited the need for even greater participation.
“This is a great beginning; however, no effort is achieved until enough people take part to create a synergy,” Kushner said. “I would like to see at the next meeting of the group twice as many chairs required to seat those in attendance, and the next meeting after that require twice as many more chairs.”
He urged those in attendance to invite others to join the initiative.
“This is not going to happen unless each and every one of us goes out and talks to our friends, talks with neighbors and talks with our employers and asks them to take part,” Kushner said. “A lot of people need to be asked. They need to be invited.”
The goal of the new coalition is to engage the community in making Danville a more tolerant, friendly and welcoming community to all citizens regardless of race, sex, religion, creed, nationality or economic status.
As proposed, the coalition would operate under the following guidelines:
• Danville United would be a City Council-established coalition rather than a committee or commission. Membership would be open to all organizations and individuals. The city would provide staff support.• The coalition would have no regulatory authority. It would not receive or investigate complaints because federal and state regulatory structures already are in place. Danville United would provide advice to City Council, but it would not oversee municipal operations, and it would not attempt to direct activities of member organizations.• Mayor Sherman Saunders and Vice Mayor Dr. Gary Miller would serve as chairman and vice chairman for the first six months to provide leadership stability during the creation of the coalition. Members of the coalition would elect their own leadership in January or February.
The city envisions Danville United as the means to bring together community stakeholders to share information, develop strategies, engage and inform the public, and independently and collectively undertake activities to promote improved race relations.
Possible activities could include community conversations and workshops, a racially diverse concert series, classes on racial history to be taught at local public schools and colleges, and “black/white ‘sister church’ pairing programs.”
The proposals drew varied reactions, including several citizens who advocated a greater focus on race relations, calling it the “elephant in the room.” Some citizens wanted opportunities for small, breakout sessions to discuss the issues of racism on a more personal level, while others suggested examining the racial diversity of Danville’s boards and commissions.
Other citizens maintained the need for the coalition to address gender and sexual orientation issues in the community. The meeting drew calls for getting Hispanic citizens and all ethnic groups involved in the coalition, as well as reaching out to youths.
Several citizens suggested the need for an outside facilitator to provide guidance and support.
Noting the differences of opinion, Averett University President Tiffany Franks urged the group to “stay the course” and “have the courage to deal with difficult issues.”
“We have such an opportunity to learn from one another,” Franks said. “That is what will make our community stronger.”
The next meeting date of the coalition has not been determined, but it likely will take place within 30 days. More than 20 citizens volunteered Tuesday night to participate in planning for the next meeting.
City Council began discussing the formation of a community relations coalition at the request of local minister Bishop Lawrence Campbell on June 18.
For more information, visit www.danville-va.gov and click on the “Danville United” tab at the left rail of the Web page.