Before the death of George Floyd, a community discussion on racial issues was already in the works.
The idea of hosting a virtual discussion in Cortez was spurred by Cortez Cultural Center Director Rebecca Levy’s reading the book “White Fragility” by Robin Di Angelo. Levy was unavailable for comment, but Cassandra Leoncini, the Cortez Public Library’s events and publicity coordinator said Levy reached out to her about co-hosting the discussion and facilitating access to the book.
Plans hit a snag when Leoncini discovered the book was unavailable from the publisher and the library’s few copies wouldn’t adequately engage community members in a discussion.
But the idea found new life when interim Library Director Alissa Baxstrom listened to the podcast series “Seeing White” from Scene on Radio and shared it with Leoncini. The podcast covered topics discussed in “White Fragility” and was easily accessible.
Although the podcast was several years old, Leoncini noted that it was relevant to current issues of racial inequality. The podcast made her wonder why, despite the advance of the civil rights movement since the 1960s, society been slow to change.
“If the behavior of the culture doesn’t follow the legal changes, then nothing really changes,” she concluded.
The forum hopes to influence the culture of the Cortez area by starting a dialogue about how racism has become institutionalized in the United States, to the point that privileged citizens don’t know it is there.
The forum also hopes to identify behaviors that residents take for granted without understanding the negative impact they can have on others. Leoncini said the forum will accomplish change by focusing on structural issues and avoiding discussion of personal race relations.
Organizers of the forum also hope for a wide range of community voices to help participants gain a more encompassing view of how racial inequality affects all aspects of Cortez life.
The forum will be moderated by Levy and Jane Wheeler. Wheeler has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and is an associate professor emeritus from Bowling Green State University. She lives in Cortez.
If the discussion gains support, it could be the first of many discussions.
Levy and Wheeler will lead the discussion with questions for participants. Time for individual comments will be limited to keep the discussion moving, and ground rules will aim to keep the discussion on track and civil.
The forum will be 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday on Zoom. Registration is required to receive a Zoom invitation; call the Cortez Public Library at 565-8117 or email CLeoncini@CityofCortez.com.