Charlottesville Violence Drives Denver Church To Hold Tough Conversations On Race
RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
We're going to hear about a church in Denver that's recently hosted some frank conversations about race. Shorter Community AME is one of the oldest African-American churches in the city. It was called First Colored Church when it opened in 1868. Colorado Public Radio's Andrea Dukakis has this story as part of NPR's look at the experiences of discrimination in America.
ANDREA DUKAKIS, BYLINE: The Rev. Timothy Tyler and his wife Nita Mosby Tyler say after the violence in Charlottesville, white and black Denverites needed an outlet. So they invited the community to what they've referred to as raw conversations on race. To set the scene, they like to point out that five members of their church are over 100 years old, people whose parents may have been slaves.
NITA MOSBY TYLER: It is quite possible that you are sitting in the midst of people that are just a generation or so away from slavery. And I think we have to remember that when we start to talk about historical trauma. We're not talking about necessarily four generations ago, in some cases, it's just one.
DUKAKIS: Since the reverend and his wife, who specializes in diversity training, opened their doors to these gatherings, the pews have been packed. At the most recent meeting, the conversation wasn't always comfortable or polite.
VICKI DILLARD CROWE: If you're in a domestic violence situation by a man that's been beating you for four years - and we've been beaten, killed for 400-plus years - we would not advocate that person staying in that relationship.
DUKAKIS: Vicki Dillard Crowe said, at this point, she wasn't ready for a reconciliation.
DILLARD CROWE: There needs to be a period of separation. The emphasis has to be - I'm more concerned about those that you're killing than I am about your feelings today.
DUKAKIS: That comment hung in the air. And most of the audience talked about the need for less separation between the races, not more. Rick Bailey of Denver says he's been too content to sit back and enjoy the privileges that come with being a white man. He says the past year - and especially Charlottesville and its aftermath - shook him out of complacency.
RICK BAILEY: I didn't realize how deeply embedded racism is - and to the point of feeling sick in my soul that things were not the way, in our country, that I thought they were.
DUKAKIS: Bailey says he wants to do more to fight racism. And Nita Mosby Tyler says whites need to do more. She says she has heard many whites say they want to fight racism. But they aren't willing to step in and lead the fight.
MOSBY TYLER: It just doesn't even make logical sense to me that the perpetrator of racism would be on the sidelines to end it.
DUKAKIS: Rev. Tyler told the group it's not enough that Denver, a majority-white city, has a black mayor and a black police chief.
TIMOTHY TYLER: Oftentimes, our white brothers and sisters have a hard time seeing why we're fighting - fighting institutions and systems. Well, the mayor is black; the police chief is black, so this can't be racism.
DUKAKIS: Rev. Tyler has taken the city to task for how it's handled friction between law enforcement and the black community. Denver's on track to spend $19 million to settle claims against law enforcement, the bulk of which were filed by African-Americans. And Tyler has singled out the rest of the black community for staying on the sidelines.
TYLER: In Denver, we oftentimes have trouble speaking truth to power when the power is black because of the relationships that we have with the people who are in power.
DUKAKIS: The Tylers want these forums to motivate. But Nita Mosby Tyler says fighting discrimination is slow work, just like it was for people years ago who built the great cathedrals of the world.
MOSBY TYLER: They knew the entire time they were doing it that they'd never live to see the final product. And we have to sit with that. But we have to be just as committed, fight just as hard - as if we were going to see the end of it.
DUKAKIS: When the session breaks up, the Tylers promise there'll be more of these. And as folks head out, many say they are motivated to do more. The question that lingers is just how to get closer to what they can now only picture in their minds.
For NPR News, I'm Andrea Dukakis in Denver.
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