Diversity speaks: A dialogue to bring peace

By Megan Wehring

Juneteenth in Kyle brought together a diverse, multi-perspective panel for an open dialogue that could bring change to the community.

The city of Kyle hosted the in-person Inaugural Dialogue for Peace and Progress Summit at City Hall and a virtual streaming for the public.

The coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests are at the forefront of many minds. Marquet Curl, Kyle Police chaplain, said that the public is living in a time of a dual pandemic.

“We have the pandemic of COVID-19 as we are all sitting here with masks on and the threat of a virus that could affect our respiratory system,” Curl said. “This pandemic has slowed the world down and for many of us, it’s made us stay at home for two to three months. During the two to three months of staying at home, we have the pandemic of racism that’s been around much longer than COVID-19.”

Awareness was the first major topic for discussion. Kyle Council Member Dex Ellison started the conversation with a leading question, asking for the primary reason behind the protests around the world and in downtown Kyle.

Gladys Carrillo, member of Mothers4BlackLives, said demonstrations are circulating around the country to bring awareness after the death of George Floyd.

“Some refer to this death as an act of police brutality,” Carrillo said. “Some only see racism. In the end, no matter the terminology used to refer to this event, a black man was killed by somebody in power. This is what the outrage is about.”

Laura McMahon, founder and president of Kyle Cultural Awareness, said that people of color need to have their voices heard in order to address that there is a problem.

“A lot of times, black and brown individuals are often dismissed and they’re dehumanized,” McMahon said. “The reason they are protesting is to be heard, to be acknowledged as human and also to acknowledge that there is a problem that exists. In order to fix something, you have to acknowledge there is a problem.”

The panelists started looking at the bigger picture. Ellison questioned whether these protests are any different from the past, since this is not the first time in history for social justice movements.

“This is not the first time communities have spoken up about concerns and fears regarding policing, social injustice, various different things,” Ellison said. “This is also not the first time awareness and unrest has happened as a result of injustices and blatant racism on display. Is this moment different, why or why not?”

Winston Dean, standup comedian and former teacher, said the American public is failing the social experiment of blending cultures and perspectives. Dean also said in order to produce any change, looking at the individual level is a good start.

“I think when it comes to the micro level, and what you can do personally, is diversify your friend circles,” Dean said. “Have your kids having other people of other races be their uncles, their aunts. When you have that going on, they’re calling somebody who’s black their uncle and they’re white. They think nothing of it, that’s when you have movements of actual change.”

In order to evoke change in the world, individuals need to be aware that there is a problem. Ben Wempe, private client advisor for JP Morgan, said white individuals need to join the fight with black individuals against racism.

“Black people have fought this fight by themselves for too long,” Wempe said. “How can the majority change if it’s only black people fighting for that change? As a white person, white people need to be with black people fighting for that change.”

Wempe also said that having the tough conversations with diversified friend circles is key.

“We have to have the conversations and listen to understand,” Wempe said. “Make sure to have conversations with people who look different than you but, I think where I also need to make a change, is having the conversations with people who look just like you.”

The panelists went through local and American historical connections that relate to the cultural movements today. Vanessa Westbrook, former Texas State University professor, said education is one of the beginning steps to making changes in the community.

“Once we get educated, we begin to rethink things,” Westbrook said. “Seek information to make sure you know what you’re talking about. Seek information to try to understand different points of view. Always walk into the room open-minded. Open-mindedness and being able to sit at the table and talk is half of our battle.”

Lastly, the panelists uncovered the next steps that can be taken.

Mariah Santos, of Mothers4BlackLives, provided feedback to the Kyle officials that they are in a position of power that can be used for the greater good.

“I’m grateful now that the city of Kyle and the police department are releasing statements,” Santos said. “You have to keep doing it. Keep standing up against racism, because you all are respected, and the people who respect you need to know that it won’t be tolerated here.”

Recognizing that there is a problem, Curl said that individuals have a responsibility to change the way they think about what’s going on in the world.

“Repentance means a changing of the mind,” Curl said. “Until there is a changing of the mind, nothing will happen any differently. There will be another hashtag, another march, six months from now when things go back to normal.”

Curl also said the last step is renewal, cleansing the heart to ultimately heal the nation.

“If we don’t do these things, we will be here this time next year on Juneteenth having a great dialogue with nothing coming from it,” Curl said. “The Bible says faith without works is dead. James says show me your faith by your works.”

Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett told residents that the officers and staff of the police department are there to listen for ideas of reform.

“We’ve had a lot of internal discussion in the police department. I assure you that our hearts, eyes, minds and ears are open. We see you. We hear you. If no other time before has proven it, what you are seeing in the last couple of weeks and what you continue to see at the Kyle Police Department will prove that to you.”

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