Months after protests, race conversation continues in Butler County: What leaders are saying

If not for the impact of the coronavirus, race relations may have been the biggest story in 2020.

Consider that following the death of an unarmed Black man by Minneapolis police, mostly peaceful protests were held throughout the region, including in Hamilton, Middletown, West Chester, Fairfield and Carlisle.

Then earlier this month, protesters participated in the riot at the U.S. Capitol. As rioters climbed over the barricades and entered the building, paraded around the building, smashing windows and destroying property as members of Congress hid.

Some questioned whether those protesters, allegedly supporters of President Trump, would have been treated differently by Capitol police if they were representing Black Lives Matter.

Fifty-three years after his death, and as the world celebrates what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92nd birthday on Monday, local leaders say difficult conversations regarding race relations must continue.

‘Significant trouble in the land’

Celeste Didlick-Davis, president of the Middletown chapter of the NAACP, said now more than ever is the time to address racial inequality.

“Last year really showed how much we are divided and how much resentment we have,” she said. “So how can you heal, how can you talk about it? It’s like a map that says, ‘You are here’ when you are looking for direction.”

The events last year, highlighted by the violence toward Blacks by police officers, illustrated there’s “significant trouble in the land,” Didlick-Davis said.

That means we’re no closer to a “post-racial society,” she said.

“When you see me, you see my race, my color, my gender,” she said. “If you don’t see my color you are not being honest. We do see color. God created diversity.”

She was asked what Martin Luther King Jr. would have thought after watching the events of 2020: “It’s not OK to be silent about stuff that matters. There is never a wrong time to do what’s right even in a pandemic. We still have work to do.”

‘There’s still work to be done’

The Rev. Shaquila Mathews said the coronavirus pandemic slowed down the nation and shined the light on racial inequality.

“It’s been a weird year in a way,” she said. “It has given us time to think, sit and focus and see what’s going on.”

Mathews, 40, a 1998 Hamilton High School graduate and former Hamilton Citizen of the Year, has been impressed by how the younger generation organized many of the local protests.

“They’re taking charge of the movement,” she said. “We need to allow them to lead the conversation, lead this movement. There’s still work to be done. Conversations to be had. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, put our egos aside and make the world a better place.”

‘We are humanity’

Lamar Ferrell, pastor of Berachah Church in Middletown, said COVID-19 has created isolation that has sent residents hiding behind their keyboards.

“Any time you can’t be face-to-face, you resort to social media attacks,” Ferrell said. “When you can’t see the other person, nothing constructive happens.”

When people look at others, they may see a different color of skin, a different culture, he said.

But in reality, Ferrell said, “we are humanity. All of us. Humanity.”

He defined racism as “hating another person when they don’t agree with everything that I agree with. That’s awful.”

‘Totally disappointed where country is’

Michael Bailey, pastor of United Faith Church in Middletown, remembers driving down I-75 years ago and approaching a vehicle with an Obama bumper sticker.

When he looked over, he was amazed to see an elderly White couple in the car.

“That picture stuck with me,” he said. “I thought America was moving forward to be a more perfect union.”

But he believes Trump, whom he called " a racist president,” has divided the country and made it difficult to improve race relations.

“There is the left and the right and there is no working anything out,” he said. “I’m totally disappointed in where our country is.”

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