Wednesday, March 19, 2008

LV Minority Leaders Discuss Unity in Diversity

I couldn't believe my own eyes as I approached the Lehigh Valley Government Center last night under cloudy skies and a cold rain. In the brightly lit meeting room, plainly visible from the outside, I thought I saw O'Bama signs everywhere. I also saw more people of color than I've ever seen together in any Lehigh Valley government meeting room.

When I walked inside, my suspicions were confirmed. The Lehigh County meeting room, inner sanctum of Lehigh's top Republicans, was desecrated by twelve bright green O'Bama signs. Just outside, a table was set up with signs, bumper stickers and voter registration forms.

Without checking, I'm still pretty sure this group violated about thirty thousand different laws against campaigning inside a government building. In Northampton County, they'd all be shot on the spot. Fortunately, I saw no elected county officials. So I grabbed an O'Bama sign, a bumper sticker, and walked into the room.

I had read about this meeting of the Lehigh Valley Citizens for Unity in Diversity at Lehigh Valley Black News, and decided to check it out. There was also a last-minute blurb in QCD. This group exists to strengthen and unite people of color. I've long felt that the Asian, Latino and black communities can wield a mighty sword if they could ever unite. A high-powered panel of ministers, academics and businessmen were on hand.

When I finally walked inside, I was the only white person there for at least the first forty minutes. People pretty much ignored me. I figured I was being excluded from all the chatter because I was white, but forum coordinator Ngozi Bell proved me wrong. Ms. Bell is très belle, but is wasting her life as an engineer and making lots of money.

After shaking my hand, Ms. Belle politely informed me that my zipper was wide open. After taking care of that little detail, people were a lot more friendly. There was Starbucks coffee, soda, cookies, cake and chicken. I'm a fat old fart with a bad back. What's worse, I've forgotten to shave half of my moustache for two days in a row, so I'm actually starting to look a little like a fat Hitler. But I've got to tell you, I was doing quite well with the ladies. Three of them actually spoke to me.

Once the panel got under way, the first thing Ms. Bell did was explain her O'Bama support. After that, she stated her "most important role is as a follower of Jesus Christ." A few "Amens" followed that declaration. Then she redeemed herself, at least in my godless eyes, by saying that "We are just a group of people who care. There is beauty in the differences that we bring to the table."

The panel fielded questions posed by WFMZ-TV anchorman, Jaciel Cordoba and Success Consultants CEO, Sharmon Lomax.

Dr. Sharon Levy, an English professor at Northampton Community College, believes the problems start with our educational system. Distressed by the disproportionate number of African Americans she sees in special ed classes, she said "Young black males are turned off by the time they reach third grade. If we don't turn this around, we will be building more prisons than colleges." Yet according to her husband, Dr. Harold Levy, the faculty and staff at Easton Area School District is about 1% even though Easton schools have the highest number of black students in the LV.

Why is the Lehigh Valley, and Allentown especially, so bigoted? According to Union Baptist Church Benjamin T. Hailey, Sr., "The Latino population has tripled in the last twenty years. Allentown wasn't ready for that. Diversity came quicker than we were able to handle it."

The best question of the night, according to all assembled, came from a 12 year old child, who asked how Latinos and blacks could be more involved with each other. Panama native Tatiana Tooley (who likes Clinton) explained it actually starts with the children.

"A child sees another child as another child until a parent tells him something different."

Rev. Karen Holmes drove Tatiana's point home with a story about different choir and dance classes that she would bring together from different parts of town. These kids had different ethnic backgrounds, but they did not want to be kept apart. They actually asked to be together. I've noticed that myself when I watch kids play sports. They are pretty damn nice to each other, much nicer than bloggers.

The answer lies with our children. I think they can do pretty well if we don't muck things up for them. I left feeling hopeful about race relation in the LV, and hope this group meets again.

You can contact founder Ngozi Bell at


Anonymous said...

I thought i'd share this story with you. when my brothers started school they are twins , they came from school exited we asked how was school today they happily replied oh good we had fun we then asked did you like teacher, oh yes they replied SHES CHOCOLATE.there is alesson in that for all of us.all they saw was that she looked different from us, no judgement based on race through a childs eyes.have a good day.

Michael Donovan said...

Thank you for the report, Mr. O'Hare. Unfortunately, I taught last evening. I am glad you shared information of the event with us.

Michael Donovan

Lazaro Fuentes said...

I am really sorry i missed this event Ngozi! We couldn't make it back to the valley in time.

I share Bernie's feelings on wanting to see more and more of these.

Thanks for the report Bernie.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are quite welcome, LaZorro.

Anonymous said...

I wish there had been more publicity about this event. Bernie, next time you should post about this in advance.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I agree I should have posted this in advance.

Anonymous said...

Seems there were too many religious types for my liking. Oh well.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To be sure, there were religious overtones to this group, but its overall message was good. I believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and was very troubled by some of the remarks one pastor made. But this appears to be a difference between our different cultures. And like Ngozi says, "There is beauty in the diversity we bring to the table." I can listen and learn.

hayshaker said...

We are witnessing why having religious types too involved in a candidate's life is not a good thing.

Blue Coyote said...

I agree with Hayshaker on this one. Even in the Bible (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25) quotes "Give to Caesar, what is Caesar's, and to God, what is God's."

There is wisdom in the separation of Government and religion. Doesn't matter if the same culture or not. Religion, by it's nature, can be polarizing, with differing belief systems or it can be used for community nurturing and healing depending on how it's interpreted.

Anonymous said...

I'm getting a little tired with Michael Donovan telling us he is a teacher and working on a dissertation. If these activities take up that much time, quit council. Sorry Bernie but it is getting rather obnoxious.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:47,

I think you're way off base with Michael. He's the only elected official I know in th LV who maintains an active blog, whicvh actually is a service to the community. He was one of 2 city council members to attend Molovinsky's "Allentown Speak Out" forum.

Michaewl and I have completely different styles but our ends are the same. I believe he is interested in government accountability and transparency. Give him two years.