Human relations group begins forums on perceived racial divide
Al Heggins says the controversy swirling around High Point Mayor Bernita Sims has created a racial divide in the community, and dialogue is needed to bring healing and understanding.
That’s how the leader of the High Point Human Relations Commission set the tone in the first of a series of scheduled public forums to address the issue.
The initial forum, held at the Macedonia Family Resource Center on Thursday, focused on “institutionalized racism,” and how to overcome it.
It also focused on explaining the role of the Human Relations Commission.
“Local events can sometimes lead us in a position that we just don’t want to be,” said Heggins, director of the commission. “Right now, High Point is in a racially divisive place, and that is not where we should be.”
Members of the High Point City Council, in an official vote, recently asked Sims to resign her post over her handling of personal financial issues. The vote was along racial lines, with all white council members voting for a motion asking for her resignation and black council members opposing. At a recent called council meeting, the crowd also appeared to be racially divided over the issue.
Heggins said the forums are needed because of the racial divide. She said she hopes the forums will start a “rich and courageous” dialogue.
“We have an issue brewing that has split the community down racial lines, and High Point is bigger than that,” Heggins said. “We want people to understand that they should not blame each other. There is something bigger at play, and it is called institutionalized racism. You have to understand what that is and how it works. We encourage people to join us in these conversations and to begin to come up with actions as a community.”
Several residents expressed their opinions during the forum, including Vietnam veteran John Green.
“Two different races of people look at things differently,” Green said. “I fought for my country, put my life on the line, to come back here and fight another war at home. If I put a hood on my head, I’m liable to be shot down, and they would say it’s alright because I fit the profile.”
Green said it’s important for him to attend the forum because of the injustice he sees directed at African-American men. He said he plans to be at every forum.
“You can be shot down and the law is supposed to protect all of us,” Green said. “I fought for my country, and while I’m fighting, you are killing my sons.”
Commission member Barbara Collins said she has experienced racial profiling due to her Persian heritage. She shared a story about how she was detained at the Canadian border, after coming from a conference, and held for hours because officers interrogated her.
For her, the forum offers a chance for the community to discuss racism and come up with a way to eliminate it.
“The more we talk, the more freely everyone expresses their truth,” Collins said. “The more we are accepting of everyone’s truth, then and only then, can we begin to move forward and clear the hurdles of overt, and covert, racism that exists for all populations in High Point.”
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The Human Relations Commission will hold three more informational forums through the month of October. The forums begin at 6:30 p.m. and last until 8 p.m.
• Oct. 17 - Southwest Guilford High School media center, 4364 Barrow Road.
• Oct. 24 - Southside Recreation Center, 401 Taylor St.
• Oct. 31 - City Hall in Council Chambers, 211 S. Hamilton St.