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Organizers of forum on racism hopeful they’ll see conversations in action

Race and Racism: A Conversation forum

The Rev. George Perry (center), pastor of St. Frederick Baptist Church in Marble Falls, shares a laugh with 'Race and Racism: A Conversation' co-presenters Amber and Ben Bales. The forum was held June 12 at the church. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

Optimistic doesn’t begin to describe the Rev. George Perry’s outlook at the conclusion of the “Race and Racism: A Conversation” forum June 12 at St. Frederick Baptist Church in Marble Falls.

“You’re going to see more love coming from each and every one of us,” he said with a smile. “You’re witnessing the core, the belief the Hill Country is actually going to produce what it has: good people here, lovely people here. Now, we’ll be able to see it in action. I feel a difference tonight looking at all these faces. Now that they know, they’re beginning to act. How can you fix something if you don’t know it’s broken?”

About 50 people of different backgrounds came together during the three-hour event to share their experiences of bigotry, limited opportunities, and unfair treatment. 

Perry, pastor of the church, wanted to create a safe environment where people could ask difficult questions about race and racism. Organizers hoped attendees would walk away with a better understanding of their community and how they can best help their neighbors and friends.

Perry said addressing racism starts at home with how children are raised. As they get older and are put “in positions of power,” they have a mindset that guides them. 

The reverend pointed out that racism isn’t always blatant or obvious. Sometimes, it’s subtle and first shows up as a bias. 

He recalled being in crowd of people of all ages at a public event where children were lined up to get food.

“A little black kid is only three steps away from the person doing the dishing out of desserts and drinks,” he said. “And every time, the white kid got theirs before the black kid. We need to speak up. We need to address somebody with respect.”

If biases, prejudices, and racism are not addressed, then, according to members of the black community, African-Americans might not receive the same education and job opportunities as white people, and they might get longer jail and prison sentences than white people who commit the same crimes. 

Forum co-moderator Amber Bales presented a slide show of images from across the country of law enforcement and protesters peacefully assembling to illustrate that the two groups can both do what they’re called to without fearing the worse. She also shared screenshots of negative social media posts regarding race and racism originating in the Highland Lakes.

It’s not just something that happens elsewhere, and it doesn’t go away if ignored.

The topic is personal to Bales. She talked about her five children, three of whom she and husband Ben adopted. The three children share the same black mother, but only two have the same white father. The other child has a black father.  

Bales talked about being scared that someone visiting her neighborhood could one day call the police because they see her third child, who has darker skin, trying to get inside the family’s home through a window because he forgot his key. 

“As a mom, this is a legitimate worry of mine,” she said as she sobbed. “I’ve stayed up crying. I’ve had panic attacks at the thought of my child being treated differently based on how he looks. It’s time we put an end to it.

“This was important to me,” she added. “We’re in a crucial time for our community and world.”

Audience members shared that, while they might not agree on every social issue, they do agree they must recognize where they’ve fallen short and where they could be better. And that starts with education. 

A biologist spoke of participating in the National Geographic’s Genographic Project that mapped historical human migration patterns by collecting and analyzing DNA samples. After studying the results, she came to a conclusion about mankind.

“There’s nothing different about where we came from,” she said. “If we could educate people about where we came from, there’s no difference.” 

As people were exiting, Perry was encouraged, noting the forum wasn’t what he expected.

“I was expecting questions and answers on how to treat (their) kids better. ‘How can I educate my kids better?’” he said. 

The conversation was deeper and more personal. 

“It took a turn, a turn for the better,” he said. “I love the way it turned out.”