The community conversation on racism in Pine Bluff last Tuesday involved holding up a mirror. The comments and observations were not new, but reflected the ability to talk about our good and not so good points.

The community conversation on racism in Pine Bluff last Tuesday involved holding up a mirror. The comments and observations were not new, but reflected the ability to talk about our good and not so good points.

Charrisse Coates, a consultant working for the Clinton School, cut to the chase quickly: “Despite your differences, there are a number of things that you have in common, and those common denominators can be used to build upon.” She was right.

Men and women who attended the session were candid about our problems and assets. It was not the first time that a cross-section of the community gathered to take a look out ourselves.

We heard many of the same comments several years ago during community meetings held in conjunction with the “20/20 Initiative.” Unfortunately, the “20/20” report is basically gathering dust on one or more shelves at City Hall and at other sites in Pine Bluff.

Hopefully the lessons from last week’s exchange will be incorporated as part of a three-year initiative called “Pathways to Racial Healing and Equity in the American South: A Community Philanthropy Strategy.” It gives residents practice and allows them to get them comfortable with talking about race in a constructive way.

Dismantling structural racism and the effects it has on the community will make Pine Bluff a better community for whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians and a place to call home without cringing.

It means individuals taking back what they learned to their respective homes and workplaces and hopefully impacting change. A respectful, productive discussion about race means encouraging everyone to listen to each other from a position that everyone has something to offer.

“Each of us has a piece of the puzzle,” Coates observed. “Alone, we just have pieces. Together, we have a big picture, a picture that’s greater than all of us, that’s bigger than all of us.”

“Structural racism” was defined as intentional or unintentional systems that perpetuate inequality based on race, occurring on the institutional rather than personal level – with government, private business and educational institutions cited as an example.

The small groups were asked to rate education, economic development, law enforcement and health care and the availability and quality of the services in each category offered to everyone, regardless of race. They were then asked to discuss what actions would improve the community’s problems and issues.

Goals stated by the groups included:

• Elimination of violence and lack of respect to all individuals;

• Improving economic opportunities;

• Fostering compassion and tolerance for all people;

• Job opportunities;

• Improving public schools;

• Improving Pine Bluff’s image and attractiveness; and

• Address parenting skills and increasing community cohesion, inclusiveness and neighborhood involvement.

One man described economic opportunities as lack of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” while another noted the cultural differences by using the illustration of a rundown residence with a car parked outside with expensive wheels drawing frowns, while others might smile at a similar house with an expensive bass boat at the residence.

A “sense of hope” was mentioned more than once, with the good deeds that happened in the community being overshadowed by the negative.

Education was a top concern voiced by a number of participants, with several questioning why Pine Bluff has three separate school districts.

Accountability of elected and appointed heads surfaced more than once.

“It is time to pitch in a penny or turn out the lights,” one participant observed at one of the last 20/20 sessions. We can’t see Pine Bluff residents as the fleeing kind.

Obtain a copy of the “20/20 Initiative” report and check off how many concerns and suggestions have been addressed in the years following the lengthy debates and public hearings.