Community leaders discuss Justice for All locally
By Jim Turner


Posted on June 9, 2020 8:08 PM



 

On Saturday, June 6, in the former RISD IT building across from the Central Office, the event “Justice For All Crucial Community Conversation” was hosted by Superintendent Bart Flener and Russellville Independent Schools. 

After a breakfast served by Roy’s Bar-B-Q, the discussion was broadcast live on RISD Facebook and WRUS. The moderator was WRUS General Manager Chris McGinnis.  

The concept was to have frank and open discussions about race relations in Russellville and Logan County in response to national unrest because of the murder of a suspect by a Minneapolis policeman almost two weeks earlier. Protest groups have taken to the streets throughout the nation and many other places around the world.

Speakers at Saturday’s session represented diversity in race, age, city, and county with roles in education, government, religion, and community service.

Most of them talked about the importance of everyone working together for racial harmony.

Perhaps the most memorable speaker was Russellville head football coach Mikey Benton. He said he has been introduced several times as “one of the good ones.” He said he doesn’t know whether that is because he played football for the University of Kentucky and is educated, or because they are in effect talking negatively about other blacks at RHS. He doesn’t like his peers being disrespected.

Benton told a story that still bothers him over a decade later. He said while he was still in high school at RHS he was driving his car one night and was stopped by Russellville police. He said he was accused of running a stop sign on a street that he had not been on that night. Because he had two air fresheners hanging on his mirror, he was forced to sit on the curb under the drug detection dog was brought in to sniff for drugs in his car.

“Of course, the dog didn’t find any drugs and never would have in my car,” the coach said. He still was issued a citation for that non-existent traffic violation, he said, remembering that the officer wondered why he exhibited “an attitude” over the incident.

RHS senior Chaun Cheaney talked about being bi-racial with a white mother and black father. He said he has never “felt the burden of racism” but he has always wondered “where do I fit in?” He noted that two of his first cousins, Josh and Jordan Kennedy, are Russellville police officers.

The pastor of The Point church in Russellville, Muryd Scipio, has an international background, but he has spent most of his life in America. His talked about the expression “as American as apple pie” being a myth, noting that apple pie came to America from Europe.

He warned against being focused on skin color. In Kentucky, he said he loves the beauty of blue skies, white clouds, green grass, and golden hay. He urged everyone to say, “See me, my color, the beauty God has designed.”

Dr. Charles Neblett, who gained fame as a Freedom Singer accompanying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, is a long-time resident of Russellville and is still the only African-American ever elected to be a magistrate on Logan Fiscal Court.

He talked about “institutional failure” in America’s handling race relations. He said the first policemen were hired to bring runaway slaves back to their owners’ plantations. “Has it changed?” he asked rhetorically. He urged Logan Countians to “get to the roots of racism” and to vote.

Neblett said people need to believe in themselves, to believe we can make changes in others, and to believe in others.

Russellville Superintendent Bart Flener said he is proud of the diversity in the city school system. He said this diversity helps prepare students for college and for life. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if 2019 RHS graduate Morgan Todd, who spoke at the meeting and who successfully organized the following day’s peaceful protest in Russellville, will become an FBI agent assigned to a primarily white state like Wyoming. He indicated she will be well prepared to deal with it.

Two of Russellville’s three principals are African American. Middle School Principal Cameron Jackson called for “intentional conversations” about cultural changes. He talked about the need for inclusion of studying black history, as did Russellville African American historian Michael Morrow, who has spent his adult life bringing the histories of local people of color to light.

Stevenson Elementary School Principal Robyn Cornelius called on everyone to respect others and said “2020 racism is unacceptable.

Lovis Patterson, who is one of two black school board members in Russellville, said we all need to make the choice to use constructive criticism.

Social worker and community involvement leader Marie Gamble encouraged critical thinking, empathy and prayer. She, too, talked about the need to study black history throughout the year, not just in February.

Former Panther basketball star and current Bellarmine University senior player Pedro Bradshaw said the key is for people to treat others the way they want to be treated themselves. He added, “If you don’t speak up, you’re condoning what’s wrong.”

English Language Family Liaison Eunice Arevalo reminded everyone that we are all equal in the sight of God.

Logan County Superintendent Paul Mullins called racism an “expression of evil.” He acknowledged that racism exists and urged everyone to use their talents to effect change.

LCHS Principal Caycee Spears said school discipline is usually thought of as punishment, but he said a role of a school is to teach students self-discipline, leading to making the right choices and doing the right thing.

Lindsey Brinkley, incoming president of the massive LCHS FFA chapter, talked about the importance of telling and accepting the truth, even when it’s hard.

Russellville Mayor Mark Stratton said, “If you don’t have love and compassion for your fellow man, you’d better look at yourself. When Jesus died on the cross, his blood dripped red, not white or black.”

Logan County Judge-Executive Logan Chick urged citizens to take accountability for their own actions and “love one another.”

Two law enforcement officers spoke. One was Russellville Schools Resource Officer Randy Hargus. He said law enforcement is a “profession I represent; I want to wear that uniform with honor.”

Sheriff Stephen Stratton said when he saw the video of George Floyd being killed by a policeman in Minneapolis, “I was speechless, embarrassed, heart-broken… Now I am nervous. I don’t want anything bad to come out of our department. Eyes are on us. We have to do the right thing.”

Afterwards, Russellville Board Member Davonna Page said, “These are emotional times. Today an amazing conversation took place among members of the Russellville/Logan County community that was powerful. Going forward, I will listen, and I will be looking/listening for implicit bias and will correct it when I see/hear it.”   

 




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