Examining Race Relations Report; Task Force to Chart Course in Reaching Study's Goals

Article excerpt

Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

Westside resident Pat Randall sees herself as a pebble cast into Jacksonville's waters of diversity and race relations.

Alone, she cannot make the changes she believes are needed.

But there are other pebbles -- growing numbers of people taking part in open discussions or the thousands who rushed to get a copy of a nine-month study on race in Jacksonville.

Add them together and organizers hope the ripples spread farther and farther.

The Jacksonville Community Council Inc. study, "Beyond the Talk: Improving Race Relations," was released almost three months ago. Although some criticized the report as not going far enough and ignoring the emotional aspect of race relations, 1,500 people sought out copies within three days of its release and thousands more downloaded copies.

The first major phase in accomplishing the study's 27 recommendations begins this month with an implementation task force planning ways to educate, advocate and monitor the progress of accomplishing the report's goals.

No particular incident prompted the study. However, the report points out several problems and a difference in how whites and blacks view race relations. A 2001 Quality of Life survey by JCCI found that 39 percent of blacks and 12 percent of whites reported having personally experienced racism at work in the previous year.

"[P]eople in Jacksonville have come together numerous times to address race relations, often in response to a flare-up of tensions in the community," the study summarized. "Each time, the resulting dialogue led to an easing of tensions until the next crisis."

Few challengers

Few have challenged the groundbreaking nature of the report, which set out to ease tensions that flare from time to time and eliminate disparities documented in six pages of the study.

The study concluded Jacksonville needs leadership, a shared vision, action and accountability to ensure results.

Some of the ideas are not new, such as expanding Study Circle discussion groups of which Randall is a part. The Jacksonville Human Rights Commission started the Study Circles initiative in 1997 as a way to improve race relations. Facilitators such as Wanda Davis guide the discussions for the study circles.

"The study shows that there's still work to be done," said Davis, a Jacksonville native.

Other ideas in the report are new, such as establishing an annual report card for race relations.

Study supporters hope the recommendations will become public policy within two years.

Momentum and community support for bettering race relations appears to be building, as thousands snatch up copies of the study, hundreds participate in Study Circles and others attend an interfaith prayer service held last week by the National Conference for Community and Justice.

But some argue these methods will take decades to resolve issues of stereotyping, blaming, anger and guilt that have led to poor race relations.

When more than 100 residents of different races and ethnicities gathered to produce "Beyond the Talk: Improving Race Relations," they discussed changes being made within years, not decades.

Mary Frances Berry is chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which investigates complaints of discrimination. Berry, who is not from Jacksonville and has no vested interest in the JCCI study, reviewed the recommendations and said they mirror mainstream research.

"If they implement these recommendations, they are likely to solve the problems," she said.

For the most part, those problems are differences in how blacks fare versus how whites fare.

Disparities

Among the disparities cited in the JCCI study are a death rate for Jacksonville's black infants nearly three times higher than white infants, a median household income of $33,478 for Jacksonville's black families in 2000 that was almost $20,000 less than that of white families, and a concentration of black gifted-program students that represented just 16. …