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In Springfield, Community Leaders Call For Unity

Springfield community leaders gathered in September to discuss how their community can move forward and confront the racial strife and systemic problems facing American society today.
Springfield community leaders gathered in September to discuss how their community can move forward and confront the racial strife and systemic problems facing American society today.

This past spring thousands of Springfielders marched through the city’s downtown to protest racial injustice and the death of George Floyd. But the conversation didn’t stop there. A group of about 100 gathered in September for One Springfield – A Call to Action Town Hall. WYSO Clark County reporter Tom Stafford filed this report.

TOM STAFFORD: A panel of a dozen community leaders lead the conversation, in the parking lot of the Hollenbeck-Bayley Center at Clark State Community College. Panelists talked about how all the different systems in Springfield and Clark County need to work together — that cooperation between leaders like ministers, teachers, economic developers, and the justice system could start to address inequality. They also sent a clear message: that protest can translate into progress only through sustained. community. involvement.

LAUREN KELLEY: As we move forward this evening, let us keep in mind that no cause is ever won fighting fire with fire. We must be unified in order to move forward together. It begins with each and every one of us never taking our eyes off the goal.

TOM STAFFORD: Lauren Kelley is the organizer of Leaders of Change, a local advocacy group, and the moderator of the meeting. She started by asking the group’s reaction to the events following the death of George Floyd. Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland began.

WARREN COPELAND: The disorder in our country is a reaction to the disorder in our society. And I welcome that as long as it stays peaceful.

TOM STAFFORD: He encouraged people who are concerned about police abuses to support a 9-member Community Policing Advisory Group the city is now establishing.

WARREN COPELAND: We hope to get a group who can be a connector between the police and the community, hopefully all the time, but especially if there is some incident in Springfield..

TOM STAFFORD: Clark County Sheriff Deb Burchett also pleaded that anyone with a complaint against one of her deputies come to her.

DEBORAH BURCHETT: ”If I don’t know, I can’t fix it. So please, come to us and let us know..”

TOM STAFFORD: Denise Williams, president of the Springfield Chapter of the NAACP, was more insistent.

DENISE WILLIAMS: We are here for you to lodge a complaint with us. We have a great relationship with our city manager, chief, we have a good working relationship with the sheriff.So what I want to stress right here to you, you must file a complaint with the NAACP.

TOM STAFFORD: Carl Ruby, pastor of Central Christian Church, referred white people of faith interested in helping the cause to the Epistle of James.

CARL RUBY: James wrote, “We should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” And as a white dude, I've been conditioned by my culture to jump in with proposed solutions. And I think we need to just kind of shut up and listen

TOM STAFFORD: Steve Massey, of the nonprofit CitiLook, said the same approach is required in developing new ways to meet the needs of the city’s most traumatized children.Programs are in place, he said,

STEVE MASSEY: But every child doesn’t learn the same. There’s not a cookie-cutter way to educate our kids.And we’ve got to get more creative and start listening more and finding out more what the kids respond to.

TOM STAFFORD: Katalina Remusat, of Springfield’s Workforce Connect, encouraged adults interested in building a more equitable future to get involved in the lives of today’s challenged children.

KATALINA REMUSAT: I want to ask our community members to offer your availability and your talents, because there's not enough eyes or ears or hearts on our youth. And if anyone's going to save our children, it's going to have to be us. The children of our city need the adults of our city.

TOM STAFFORD: Clark County Commissioner Melanie Wilt added a different note. While she supports policy changes in making steps toward progress ….

MELANIE WILT: It’s the time we take one-on-one to really get to know each other, to get to know, you know, what's behind somebody’s eyes, what's behind somebody's heart, what's the true intention that will really make the difference. So I just would encourage everyone: Reach out, build that one-on-one relationship with someone who looks at the world through a different lens than you do.

TOM STAFFORD: Reporting from Springfield for WYSO News, I’m Tom Stafford.

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The forum attracted a socially-distanced crowd of community attendees.
Tom Stafford / WYSO
The forum attracted a socially-distanced crowd of community attendees.