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Area leaders honored for race-relations work

By Joanna Soto
Staff Writer

Five Athens-area civic and religious leaders were honored for their work toward improving race relations Saturday.
Mayor Gwen O'Looney and Police Chief Jack Lumpkin were among those recognized at a reception at the University of Georgia's Tate Student Center hosted by the Baha'i Community of Athens-Clarke County. The other recipients included the Rev. Samuel Pridgon of Bethel Baptist Church, the Rev. Terre Balof of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Father Steven Pavignano of the Catholic Center of UGA.
Elham Rouhani, who helped coordinate the reception, said the honorees were selected because of their efforts to improve racial unity. Unity among races, sexes and ages is a cornerstone of the Baha'i religion, she said.
"They're trying very hard to reach an understanding of the issues facing the community, as well as the individuals in that community," Rouhani said.
Behnaz Rouhani said the Athens Baha'i community would like to make the race unity awards an annual event.
The Baha'i faith began in the Middle East and emphasizes the unity of all religions under God.
O'Looney said that as a young woman in the 1960s, she never thought the country would still be struggling with race problems today.
"I really thought in 1964, when schools were integrated, that it was just all going to go away," O'Looney said.
Despite the continuing tensions between races, O'Looney said she is optimistic that the situation is improving. She said it is important not only to search for similarities between races, but also to celebrate the differences.
"I can't think of anything more important than being honored for contributing to what you believe in," O'Looney said.
Lumpkin said when he first became a police officer, he felt the weight of racism and inequality. Since that time, he said he has emphasized the need for all officers to give others the respect they would want for themselves.
"As long as I have anything to do with a police department, we're going to continue to move toward serving people with ethical standards," Lumpkin said.

©Copyright, Athens Daily News

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