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ARTICLE: Geneva Dialogues

By DAVID L. SHAW
As seen in the Finger Lakes Times on March 23, 2012

Facilitator Khuram Hussain leads discussion with the Dialogue/Education and Outreach/Mentoring sub-group as part of the Geneva Dialogues on Race.

THE WORK CONTINUES: Dialogues on Race wrap up, but groups will continue to meet and work to implement ideas

GENEVA — The first round of Community Dialogues on Race ended March 17, but the effort to improve the atmosphere in the city continues.

The 50 or so participants, who were split into four groups, shared their experiences at last week’s meeting. Afterward, they broke into five sub-groups that will continue meeting to implement programs aimed at meeting specific goals.

Meanwhile, a second round of dialogue sessions are planned for later this year. They’ll involve a new group of people.

Attorney Marty Eades, legal counsel to the Geneva Housing Authority, participated in the opening round of dialogues.

“I’m glad I did,” Eades said. “I learned a lot and met a lot of new people. I have come away from this with a good feeling about where things may be going. We’re having ongoing discussions by the sub-groups on implementing recommendations we feel will benefit the whole community.”

Eades said the discussions weren’t accusatory and didn’t involve finger-pointing.

“People were very positive about making it better,” he said.

The Geneva Human Rights Commission sponsored the dialogues. During the wrap-up session, Executive Director Karen Baer said it became apparent how similar each group had perceived Geneva “and what initiatives should be proposed to resolve its problems.”

Those proposals focused on how the community can get to “where it wants to be.” They include general themes of future dialogues, outreach and education, mentoring, police and youth, government, public policy, voting, community events, celebrations, diversity in employment, boards and commissions.

Each participant selected which theme they wanted to continue to explore. The five new sub-groups were formed around common themes.

“The sub-groups have scheduled their first meetings,” Baer said. “They seem willing to take an issue and run with it.

“I’m happy with what happened. It’s what we had hoped would happen going into it, and that is a willingness to make changes in the community to make a difference, to make the community better.”

Baer said there was a dialogue session just for local clergy members, and she hopes there will be another this summer.

Baer thanked Five Star Bank for allowing the use of its large conference room for the meetings. Geneva Reads gave each participant a copy of “Seedfolks” by Paul Fleischman, this year’s Community Read selection.

The dialogues were set up as part of efforts to diffuse tensions and unite the community after the May 2011 shooting death of a 34-year-old black man by a white Geneva police officer during a traffic stop.

The U.S. Department of Justice sent a representative to meet with local people and aid an effort to discuss the incident and its impact on the community. The Justice Department suggested the dialogues. Facilitators were trained to guide the discussions, and the groups met three or four times in February and March.