West Virginia Fights Racism with `Unity'

By Walter, Shane | Nation's Cities Weekly, September 17, 2001 | Go to article overview

West Virginia Fights Racism with `Unity'


Walter, Shane, Nation's Cities Weekly


Fifth in a series of stories discussing how different State Leagues have used the last year to combat racism. The series will lead up to Race Equality Day on September 19.

The residents of Clarksburg, W. Va., began former NLC president Bob Knight's Campaign to Promote Racial Justice last September the best possible way.

A few days before Knight's official rally in Washington D.C., Clarksburg had a couple of its own. One was a downtown rally for the Ku Klux Klan; the other was the city's response against it.

Former city mayor and current Clarksburg council member Pastor David Kates began the "Let's Get Real" rally when he uttered those exact words in response to the information about the KKK rally. Hundreds of residents came out in support of Kates and diversity in their city. From this rally, Clarksburg's now award winning program -- the Unity Project -- was born.

Kates and Clarksburg city councilman James Hunt founded the program to, as Hunt states on his website, "providing community education on issues of diversity and racial unity." From the opening rally came school programs, community meetings and a speaker's bureau, while church groups, government officials and other community groups all have responded with open arms at the idea of a completely diverse city.

"At the time we formed the Unity Project for the KKK rally, the word `unity' wasn't used on a regular basis," Hunt said. "But such tremendous things came out of that rally. We've just been amazed."

Hunt and Kates also have been busy. In addition to being the key figures for the Unity Project, the duo is becoming its best promoters as well with a new project geared toward the state's youth. Hunt and Kates travel from school to school to talk with classes about diversity. And with Kates, who is an African American, the mostly white student population gets a different perspective on racism.

"This state's 97 percent white," Hunt said. "In a lot of these rural schools there's probably many cases where the kids have never had the opportunity to sit down with someone of another race. We try and bring out some of the questions people are afraid to ask.

"It's worked very well. …

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