AUGUSTA, Ga. (Mennonite Mission Network) A video on racism produced by Mennonite Media fifteen years ago is receiving current attention in Georgia’s second largest city.
In recent years, according to the Augusta Chronicle, Augusta has not been a stranger to tensions and controversies along racial lines*, including, most recently, a controversial state voter photo identification bill, which some say discriminates against lower-income persons and minorities. The Augusta City governing commission consists of five African American and five Caucasian, reflecting the area’s nearly evenly distributed population.
A poll conducted in 2004 by the Augusta State University Research Center revealed that about 65 percent of the population felt that the city has race problems. In 1998, the fatal shooting of a black man by two white sheriff’s deputies caused tension and a runoff election pitted a white incumbent against a black former mayor, and votes split almost exactly along the racial make up of the precincts.
Mallory Millender is a professor of French and journalism at Paine College in Augusta and is at times an activist and outspoken in local affairs about the latent and overt racism that surfaces from time to time.
Millender was determined to take a positive step. As co-chair of the “Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Race Relations,” Millender worked with the other co-chair, Rev. Paulwyn Boliek and the mayor, Deke Copenhaver, to purchase 50 copies of Beyond The News: Racism. Mennonite Media arranged a special price for this quantity purchase.
The committee plans to bring together a large community cross section of church, school, civic, Scout, business and community leaders and undergo a training session in how they can use the video to work at this issue in their town.
The videos will be sold at nominal cost with the thought that free resources are often just put on a shelf and not used. The distribution and training is expected to be administrated by the Augusta Humans Relations Division of the city.
The program will serve to sensitize the community to its racism and the training will show steps as to what people can do about it. The Blue Ribbon committee wanted to do this because they wanted to do more than “just issue a report” on racism, according to Millender.
They hope the videos and training will start an ongoing dialogue in churches, schools and various community entities and that these various groups can use the videos as an ongoing training instrument to combat racism.
“The whole purpose for the establishment of the Blue Ribbon Panel was to identify racism in Augusta and to determine what can be done to alleviate it. A report will not solve the problem, we need more than a report,” Millender emphasized.
“There are new people who come into or change positions and unless there is an ongoing effort and commitment to fighting it, nothing will happen. Hopefully the videos will provide an impetus to keep working at the issue,” he said.
The committee plans to have a professional trainer work to train people on how to use the videos, and create a sheet with sample questions.
“But it all depends on how committed we are to solving the problem,” Millender said. “You can’t make people do things they’re not interested in doing.”
Paulwyn Bolick, co-chair of the committee and the retired minister of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Augusta, said they picked Beyond the News: Racism because “[the segments are] discussion starters, they’re open-ended.”
The Blue Ribbon Committee, which was designed to cease at the end of the research, felt like they needed to do something to help the dialogue continue in the broader community after the committee disbanded. “We felt that the video was a good way to do that,” said Bolick.
Bolick said the committee also earlier used the Beyond the Skin: Building Understanding Between Races radio spots from Mennonite Media, which they sent to all radio stations in the area on a public service basis. They then got the city to purchase time to air the spots for six weeks during morning and afternoon “drive time” on two stations, one predominately black and the other predominately white.
At one time Millender was also the publisher of an alternate voice paper, the Augusta News Review. Paine College, where Millender is a professor, was originally founded in 1882 in an unusual coalition of black and white Methodists who believed in church-related education as a means of advancement for a newly freed people.
Augusta, the second-largest city in Georgia, after Atlanta, and located on the South Carolina-Georgia border, is home to the renowned Masters Tournament. It is also known as the birthplace of the Southern Baptist denomination and the oldest autonomous African-American church in the nation, Springfield Baptist.
Beyond the News: Racism, originally released in 1992 and produced by Jerry L. Holsopple, was re-released in 2006 on DVD and features segments on racism and white privilege and how it affects jobs, expectations in education, the judicial system, and the church. Portions of the video/DVD program appear in written form at Third Way Cafe. For more information on the video/DVD or the radio spots call 800-999-3534.