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Baha'i community to host dialogue on local race relations

By Cynthia M. Hodnett
of the Journal Sentinel staff

June 12, 1998

Waukesha -- Members of the local Baha'i community believe that open and honest dialogue is essential in eliminating hatred, injustice and intolerance from society.

To spread that message, the group will host "Race Unity," a discussion of local race relations at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at E.B. Shurts Environmental Learning Center, 810 W. College Ave., Waukesha. The event is free and open to the public.

The Baha'i faith teaches that religious figures such as Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed and Jesus Christ were sent to teach humanity the golden rule. The Baha'i faith stresses that all religions and all humanity are one.

"Throughout America this year, members of Baha'i have raised the issue of spreading racial harmony," said Mary C. Potter, corresponding secretary of the Waukesha group. "I am sure that there are minorities in Waukesha who have had some negative experiences, so it's important that we hear from them."

Teresa Williams, director of cultural diversity at Carroll College, is one of several guests scheduled to speak at the event.

Jack Lee, president and chief executive officer of the trade association Milwaukee Area Radio Stations, and Anselmo Villarreal, executive director of La Casa de Esperanza, will also speak.

Williams, who is African-American, will discuss her own experiences and those of minority students on what it's like for minorities who live in Waukesha.

Many of the students feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in the community, she said.

"There are a few places that students can go in Waukesha where they feel welcomed and or not looked upon differently as if they were going to steal something or start problems," Williams said. "The way that the students deal with it is to avoid those places."

The private Carroll College has an enrollment of about 1,720 students, and about 175 -- 10% -- are minorities.

"As a minority, there are places that you go where you just don't feel welcomed," Williams said. "There have been several times that I have felt that way, like being stared at by whites, as if I don't belong."

Williams said she is hopeful that the event will attract people who are willing to hold an open and honest discussion about race.

"I know (members of Baha'i) will be there and those who already have the idea of acceptance and tolerance will be there," she said. "But what about those who don't?"

Although society has come a long way on improving race relations, there is still room for improvement, Potter said.

"How is it possible for mankind to love and understand God if we cannot find those things in each other?" she said. "But if we can begin a serious dialogue about race, then we can begin to address some of those problems and offer some solutions."

Sunday's event will be held to observe Unity Day, an annual tradition that is observed by members of the Baha'i faith worldwide.

©Copyright 1998, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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