The Building Bridges to Understanding conference generated some ideas last week for how people can better understand each other, and one of those ideas seeks new conversation about the future of the Confederate monument beside the Pasquotank County Courthouse.
The two-day meeting of about 35 people of diverse backgrounds was convened by 100 Black Men of Northeastern North Carolina Inc. and held on the College of The Albemarle campus.
Hezekiah Brown, a member of 100 Black Men whose work in conflict resolution helped shape the way the conference was conducted, said the moment was right to bring the group of people together.
“This is something that people really want to do,” Brown said.
COA President Jack Bagwell and Mid-Atlantic Christian University President John Maurice both participated the entire two days. Also in attendance were representatives from Elizabeth City State University, the Elizabeth City Police Department, Pasquotank County government, the Pasquotank Branch of the NAACP, and local churches and nonprofits.
Conference participants were focused on developing solutions to problems like racial injustice that have gotten a lot of attention in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white police officer last month in Minneapolis.
The group compiled a list of action steps in a final report to better bring people together, and one of those steps seeks a meeting between the NAACP and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to address the Confederate statue on Main Street. The NAACP opposes the monument; a local chapter of UDC paid to have the monument erected in 1911.
That conversation is listed as an action step under the larger objective to “create opportunities to engage with each other to gain deeper knowledge of each other’s histories, cultural feelings, and desires.”
Other recommendations in the report include:
• Engage in the whole community as individuals to build relationships to expand social circles and gain deeper understanding of different histories, cultural preferences, and differences to create opportunities for social interaction.
• Acknowledge differences but treat one another as members of the human race.
• Be vulnerable in order to have open communication, and to learn. Participants were urged to risk comfort.
• Acknowledge and consider the contributions of all groups and individuals to the history of America.
Racially diverse dinner parties and diverse community events are identified as steps toward practicing humility and hospitality. Institutions cited as having a key role to play in accomplishing that include ECSU, COA, MACU, churches, Arts of the Albemarle, and Museum of the Albemarle.
The report calls for learning “not to be racist,” with a concrete action step toward that being to acknowledge white privilege.
The report also includes a recommendation for community forums to accept the racial behavior of the past and not try to justify continuing behavior.
Organizations recommended to hold the forums include the city-county Community Relations Commission, the Northeastern N.C. League of Women Voters, churches, educational institutions, and the local Ministerial Association.
A recommendation not to make racial issues out of non-racial issues is identified as a particular responsibility of The Daily Advance and a general responsibility of the whole community.
Another recommendation is for whites to police the racial behavior of other whites and engage in honest and courageous dialogue with other whites.
Brown said he was pleased with the outcome of the two-day gathering.
“It was a phenomenal two days,” Brown said. “Everything cannot be put down on paper. But I think we built some bridges in those rooms.”
People got to know each other better, Brown said.
Bagwell said late Friday that he enjoyed the conference because it was “action-oriented and focused on solutions.”
The COA president said he personally benefited from the conference because he was able to meet people who can be “resources” for both him and the college.
“I thought it was a great two days,” he said.