Workshop focuses on diversity, inclusion

By Sean Barron


A longtime civil- rights advocate contends that the underlying rationale that justified excluding and denying the rights of blacks 50 years ago is the same one that permits today’s discrimination against many people based on their sexuality.

Similarly, both groups’ struggles are deeply rooted in institutional and systemic racism, the retired federal judge said.

“Society pays a terrible price for the exclusion of people for those reasons,” Judge Nathaniel R. Jones said during his presentation at Thursday’s Dynamics of Diversity workshop at Drake’s Landing Banquet Center, 2177 W. Western Reserve Road.

Hosting the six-hour gathering was the Mahoning County Juvenile Court and its Community Advisory Board.

Judge Jones, formerly of Youngstown, now of Cincinnati, focused on the impacts of exclusion based on race and sexual orientation, as well as how the two forms of discrimination are intertwined.

The judge also provided a synopsis on and signed copies of his autobiography, “Answering the Call,” during a gathering at Youngstown State University’s DeBartolo Stadium Club Thursday night.

“The Call” that Jones answered was to action, issued by the founding members of the NAACP for the purpose of gathering civil-rights activists under an umbrella of a single organization.

Judge Jones became aware of racial discrimination early in life, recalling the days he would spend as a child on the Volney Rogers playground. On Tuesdays, he said, the white children would be taken to a local pool, while the black kids were taken on nature hikes. That segregation opened his eyes to discrimination for the first time.

He also gave a detailed account of his life just before enrolling at the then-Youngstown College. As with many young black American men coming back from the war, Jones was the first in his family to attend college, in large part thanks to the GI Bill. Describing the overwhelming experience of encountering college for the first time, he credited the mentorship of men in Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity with helping him successfully navigate his early college years.

After Judge Jones spoke, a panel of local professionals and students was assembled to answer questions about how the judge’s book impacted their lives. It featured Charles Mickens, a local lawyer; Selina Cotton, an English teacher at East High School; and Garricka Willis, East High’s senior class president. Michelle McCollin, an associate professor at Slippery Rock University, moderated.

Panel members described the book as inspiring and a testament to perseverance and the importance of education. For McCollin, one word encapsulated the spirit of the book: agitate.

It was the judge’s frequent challenges to discriminatory laws and social structures that earned him recognition later in life.

Recently, Judge Jones was the recipient of the 2016 NAACP Springarn Medal Award. Earlier this month, he received the inaugural Simeon Booker Award for Courage at the DeYor Performing Arts Center during the sixth annual Nonviolence Week.

Judge Jones cited the famous 1857 Dred Scott case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Scott, a former slave, was not considered free in Illinois or Wisconsin, which were so-called free states, because he was “not a person,” but was property, as defined by the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, he was unable to file a lawsuit as a free man, and the ruling helped pave the way to treat blacks as inferior and “unworthy of white people’s respect,” the judge continued.

Remnants of the Scott decision reverberate today via some states’ voter-suppression efforts, along with discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation, Judge Jones said.

Nevertheless, many people who feel they have suffered such indignities are standing up for themselves, he noted.

“Today, people are more assertive; they feel free to express their humanity and want to be treated with dignity and not shunted aside,” the judge said.

Attempts to bring about further inclusion for people, regardless of their sexual orientation, need to take a holistic approach, one that is “steady and stable, and can withstand the onslaughts of the uninformed,” Judge Jones contended.

Erin Smiley, a health educator with Planned Parenthood’s Cincinnati office, spoke on ways to support young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Smiley noted that the No. 1 risk factor many LGBT people encounter is family rejection, which often leads to social isolation and paves the way for high-risk behaviors and circumstances such as suicide, dropping out of school, homelessness, substance abuse and chemical dependency, depression and failure in school. Some who are homeless also engage in so-called “survivor sex,” meaning they have sex in exchange for food, shelter and other essential needs, she said.

In addition, Smiley said, some face potential crises, including job loss and bullying.

“If they lose a job, it typically spirals them down,” she said.

Keys to being supportive and helping those in the LGBT community succeed are using active listening and gender-neutral language, asking questions in a respectful manner, matching their words and phrases, avoiding stereotypical and derogatory terms, reporting abuse, maintaining confidentiality, ensuring they have access to needed resources and never assuming they are potential sex offenders, Smiley stressed.

“Just because a person is gay doesn’t mean they’re going to act in a certain way or present in a certain way,” she added.

In her presentation, “Lucky ZIP Codes,” Amy Hunter spoke largely on how certain post-World War II decisions led to housing discrimination against blacks.

Hunter, the manager of diversity and inclusion with St. Louis Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, explained how funds from the GI Bill and loans were unequally distributed, as well as how some states used race as a factor to determine who could live in which communities. Those in the “lucky” ZIP codes usually had more resources and better schools, she contended.

Hunter also made suggestions for how black people should deal with police, recalling when an officer harassed her 12-year-old son by unjustifiably patting him down and treating him like a criminal.

An effective solution to racial and other related problems is to develop “fictive kinship,” the ability to perceive, work with and recognize as family those who aren’t biologically related, she said.

The event’s main sponsors were Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, PNC Bank, the Beeghly Foundation, DeBartolo York and Naffah Hospitality Group LLC.

CONTRIBUTOR: Vindicator reporter Graig Graziosi