Happy New Year from PCHR!

Photo: G. Widman, courtesy ofVisit Philadelphia

Photo: G. Widman, courtesy of Visit Philadelphia

From the team that works every day to help ensure justice and equality in employment, public accommodations and housing for Philadelphia’s residents and visitors alike, enjoy a safe and wonderful time ushering in 2015! And we offer you a standing invitation to join us in our ongoing work of promoting peace and harmony in every neighborhood across this great city!

PCHR urges introspection and action following racially-charged responses to officer-involved deaths

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations issued the following statement responding to the ongoing discord following grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y.

Officer-involved slayings of civilians should always provoke alarm, introspection and considered action, because if mishandled, the repercussions and damage to public credibility stand to be great. Likewise, the great American right to peaceably assemble and petition grievances is a sacred one that should be respected.

In recent weeks, two highly publicized cases involving police and the deaths of young, unarmed African-American men concluded with results that have threatened the sense of fairness and harmony among many, locally and nationally. Equally troubling is the twinned and expressed level of indifference and sometimes hostility toward those upset by these decisions. Together, they dampen the feel of racial progress and justice, even 50 years after major civil rights battles were waged and won.

In order for true progress to continue, we must recognize and work to correct conditions that undercut our long held values such as equal protection under the law. Ignoring or dismissing these concerns does little but to foment resentment and frustration, which often devolves into violent outbursts, advancing little. This is the time that we need to come together, to both actively listen and collectively work on solutions.

Everyone has a role to play, be it in confronting our own biases, speaking out with respectful defense of others or pushing to change institutional policies and practices that perpetuate inequality – ranging from lopsided resources for public schools to using criminal records or credit scores as barriers to jobs or housing. We cannot truly thrive until every aspect of our society is afforded equal opportunity – and that includes treatment by public safety officers and our criminal justice system. That is work to which this commission is committed.

We must show the people of this city, of this nation – particularly young people – that their lives matter, that all lives matter. Our actions must reflect a belief that there is hope for the future. Because there is.

Established in 1951, PCHR enforces civil rights laws and helps to diffuse inter-group conflict within the city.

Bringing African Americans to the table to talk about race

NewCORE – New Conversations on Race and Ethnicity – came together six years ago with a broad but essential mandate: use faith leaders as guides for Philadelphians wading through and seeking to strengthen race relations.

Yesterday, at Prince of Peace Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, NewCORE launched We Need to Talk, a series of neighborhood sessions where African Americans can examine their experiences with race in intimate dialogue with neighbors and strangers. The group laid a framework for this series last month, when Mayor Michael A. Nutter and a host of other prominent African Americans offered intimate glimpses through their lens of race  and become unofficial ambassadors for the movement.

The talks are designed to explore issues of pain, challenges and hopes in a neutral space, without the pressure of the latest news cycle pressing buttons and pressure points.

That good intention fell aside somewhat in the wake of the Ferguson decision, though, when a mostly white grand jury opted not to indict a white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb.

Officer Darren Wilson claimed Michael Brown Jr. had attacked him and that he feared for his life; some witness accounts said Brown had his hands up and was shot anyway.

The chain of ensuing events, from leaving the teenager’s bleeding body in the street uncovered for hours to the reaction by police officials in the early days of the summer shooting sparked unrest in Ferguson and solidarity protests across the United States, including in Philadelphia, before and after the grand jury decision.

The officer since has resigned and President Obama just created a task force to delve into the persistent issue of mistrust between area police and communities of color, as well as the increased militarization of police departments. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey will serve as co-lead of that task force.

Images of officers in Missouri in full-on battle gear and weaponry ignited widespread condemnation, foreign and domestic.

More than anything, Ferguson reignited urgent questions about racial perceptions and realities, in some instances creating bright lines that seem intractable. NewCORE seeks to play a role in easing people toward greater understanding, with an eye to the long view on race and intergroup harmony.table

Still, engaging any conversation about race, regardless of the participants, can be a tricky enterprise, which is why NewCORE organizers want to cultivate organic, thoughtful and personal exchanges.

Rather than big summits and television cameras, they’re opting to spur intimate “storytelling table conversation,” said the Rev. Steven Lawrence, a minister at White Rock Baptist Church and a leader in the NewCORE movement.

We Need to Talk will pick back up Wednesday, Dec. 10, at Caanan Baptist Church in Northwest Philadelphia, with the series continuing across the city through December 17. Attendees are to center their discussions on personal experiences with pain, challenge and hope as they relate to race relations.

“We want the conversations in each location to be vital and relevant for those neighbors, so we expect there will be a great variety of topics discussed,” Lawrence said.

That has been the case since he and other faith leaders responded to came shortly after the inspiring 2008 address by then-candidate Barack Obama, A More Perfect Union. In the heady days after the frank and critically acclaimed treatise on the persistent American dilemma of race, the mayor challenged local leaders to keep the energy alive by establishing safe spaces for open, honest dialogue.

While this latest series is geared toward African Americans, the work of NewCORE typically has had wide and diverse reach, having held events at the National Museum of American Jewish History and a mosque in Villanova, as examples.

Rather than try to engineer outcomes, NewCORE remains focused on starting and cultivating safe conversations.

“We have found that people are tired of settings based on talking, but not listening,” Lawrence said. “People are hungering for sincere conversation. Once that happens, people want more.

“Ongoing conversation is a great way to discover what a community can do together. We want to encourage the conversation.”

We Need to Talk: Our Pain, Our Challenges, Our Hopes
Upcoming neighborhood sessions. Registration is requested.

Northwest Philadelphia
Wednesday, Dec. 10
6-8:30 p.m.
Canaan Baptist Church
5430 Pulaski Ave.

West Philadelphia
Saturday, Dec. 13
12-2:30 p.m.
White Rock Baptist Church
5240 Chestnut St.

Wednesday, Dec. 17
6-8:30 p.m.
Quba Masjid
4637 Lancaster Ave.

South Philadelphia
Monday, Dec. 15
6-8:30 p.m.
Church of the Redeemer Baptist
1440 S. 24th St.

Southwest Philadelphia
Tuesday, Dec. 16
6-8:30 p.m.
St. Paul AME Church
8398 Lindbergh Blvd.