Time to talk race

Now is the time for Atlantans to come together to reflect on how we can enhance and modernize the conversation on race relations and the ignorance that is prevalent today. Our generation needs to be proactive instead of reactive, vigilant in recognizing injustice as it arises and knowing how to prevent problems before they begin.

Why is it so important to have this dialogue now?

News headlines and current events that underscore inequality, intolerance and ignorance make this a critical conversation. Atlanta is known as a mecca for civil and human rights, and in many ways, we are increasingly becoming a model for the nation; but we have a ways to go. Eleanor Roosevelt told the United Nations in 1958, “Without concerted citizen action to uphold (universal human rights) close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

As Atlantans, we must build our legacy. We’ve taken a step forward with the opening of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. What should be done next?

It is critical to create a safe place for discussions on race relations. I am honored to have been asked by my good friend Letty Ashworth to join her, the YWCA of Greater Atlanta and Delta Air Lines to bring an inaugural program to our region that creates a place for learning, understanding and discussion.

In recent years, I’ve worked closely with community leaders such as the Revs. Bernice King and Gerald Durley on issues of violence relating to gender and the environment. This resulted in one of the biggest honors of my life, when I was asked to speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Aug. 28, 2013.

So it is with great pride I share that on Sept. 23 at the Delta Flight Museum, more than 600 community members will engage in a dialogue on race at “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race,” the YWCA’s inaugural event.

Additionally, I am proud to observe that one of Atlanta’s most revered citizens accepted his Nobel Peace Prize 50 years ago this year. In his acceptance speech, King said, “Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence.”

His poignant words are just as true today as they were a half-century ago. Racism is but one manifestation of today’s ongoing violence and systemic oppression to minority groups.

According to Karin Ryan, senior project adviser for human rights at the Carter Center, nonviolent solutions require, above all, that we respect one another. President Jimmy Carter’s most recent book, “A Call to Action,” dedicated to Ryan, details how religion is used around the globe to condone violence and oppression towards women. We have been blessed with leaders like King and living heroes like Carter,

Next year at the Georgia World Congress Center, the Rev. Joseph Lowry, Ambassador Andrew Young, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, C.T. Vivian and others will host the 2015 World Summit of Peace Laureates. Nonviolence will be a critically important theme addressed at that November, 2015 summit.

As a city, we have been blessed with a rich and unique heritage. It is time we take additional steps toward a nonviolent answer and get the conversation going. We all have a vested interest in participating in this dialogue. Can we imagine an Atlanta that will grow and prosper all of our citizens? Can we imagine a high-functioning city where the opportunity to create and live the American Dream is possible for all?

"It's Time to Talk" is an important step on the path to making that vision a reality. We want your voice in the conversation. For details: www.ywcaatlanta.org