MOUNT VERNON — Knox County is home to a diverse group of people, who share commonalities yet also have differences. As the county continues to grow, so does the diversification of religions, ethnicities and sexualities, as well as economic class. On Tuesday, people from the community met at Knox County Educational Service Center to discuss problems of discrimination, but, most important, to address solutions.
Facilitators Rose Cole and Penny Rauzi led the discussion and opened the topic of diversity by speaking about their personal experiences.
“My father was the kindest, most loving man and respectful human being I ever knew, and he said to me, ‘Always treat people with dignity and respect.’ And that is what we are doing here tonight,” said Cole. “I’m really excited about [the discussion] and everyone being here in this room because I think there are people who care.”
“We want to stand up and make our community a warm and welcoming place to be,” said Rauzi.
Although Rauzi and Cole organized the discussion, they hope an advocacy group will emerge to continue on and respond to local problems.
Co-coordinators Tamara Parson and Ruben Castilla Herrera, with the League of United Latin American Citizens of Ohio, spoke about the Vigil For Justice that will be held Friday at noon on the Public Square. The vigil is being held in response to recent controversy surrounding an incident involving a local Hispanic boy.
“There’s the call to understand what happened, and that is what the vigil is. It is really a call and an invitation to bring [awareness]. ... And then there is what’s possible here; a lot of times we just see what’s wrong, but the question is, what’s possible with this situation,” said Herrera.
“It is a peaceful gathering with the attention of showing that we believe in justice for everyone,” said Parson. “... Afterward we are also hosting an informal reception at the First Congregational Church on North Main Street.”
During the program, community members were separated into seven groups, with each group discussing problems minority communities experience locally and possible goals that a local advocacy group can pursue.
“I think one of the problems is because people haven’t been exposed to much diversity,” said Kate Lockhart, a Mount Vernon resident. “They’re afraid of it, as opposed to trying to learn more about something. Their first reaction is this is something different.”
Another problem addressed was hostility toward people with different appearances and different cultures, as well as intolerance. Problems of racial, religious and other stereotypes were also discussed.
Because the minority communities are so small, it is easy to not be aware of the diversity, said Laura Yakas, a Kenyon College student.
Issues addressed included ways to bring about awareness on diversity and acceptance; methods of education; using art, festivals, foods and other cultural means to encourage understanding within the community; sensitize aspects of the community; learning ways to speak out effectively against discrimination; and creating opportunities for more face-to-face contact with people of a different religion, ethnicity, sexuality and economic class.