Cover Story: The Diversity Challenge

Interfaith Ministry Brings
Hope to Racial Discussions

In big cities around the country, where the potential problems of race are sometimes the worst, people are beginning to talk across ethnic lines.

Interfaith Action for Racial Justice in Baltimore, is planning 80 to 100 small group meetings over the next five years. The group consists of 40 congregations and religious institutions, as well as 500 individual members.

For the last 10 years, the organization has paired up Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations. Its plan for the next five years is to get residents of Baltimore and the five surrounding counties to talk about the city's future, an issue that has a lot to do with race, said John C. Springer, executive director of Interfaith Action.

"In the last six years the number of middle class people leaving the city has been like a hemorrhage," Springer said. "The counties they are moving to are primarily white."

The shrinking tax base has affected the city's ability to provide such services as a quality education. Government leaders from four of the counties and the city have agreed to take part in the five-year program.

"I think we have a chance to do something new and something different. I think people are ready," Springer said.

Chicago has its "Chicago Dinners." On the same night, small dinner parties are held all over the city, bringing together people of different ethnicities.

Each group is made up of people of similar backgrounds. "They're introduced to people who are in some way 'them' in a different race," said Terri Johnson, staff associate at the Human Relations Foundation of Chicago, which sponsors the program.

Since November 1995, the Chicago Dinner has attracted more than 3,000 people to 216 dinner parties. The host for each dinner is trained in how to facilitate an after-dinner discussion about racial issues.

"African-American professionals tell me they get followed in certain department stores," said Kathryn Hartrick, who has attended several dinners. "If I didn't hear it, I couldn't believe that parts of our society are that backward still."

Other stories in the Village Life News Cover Story:

  • New Efforts Help Citizens Get Along, Get Things Done
  • Community Cousins Builds New Ethnic Relationships
  • Employers Find Diversity Programs Must be 'Lived'
  • Diversity in Workforce Produces Bottom Line Benefits
  • Interfaith Ministry Brings Hope to Racial Discussions
  • Posted July 7, 1997
    Copyright ©1997 American News Service

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