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Continuing the conversation: Series at Midtown Center focuses on race and the community

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 16, 2010 - Beginning tonight, members of the community will gather at Catholic Charities Community Services Midtown Center to learn, listen and talk about race. They'll also be getting to know each other, and that part of the evening might be the most important.

"We don't want this to be just another discussion about race in St. Louis," says Dan Leonard with Catholic Charities.

The discussion series will center around the PBS series "Race -- the Power of an Illusion," which examines the historical and scientific backgrounds of the very idea of race itself. As part of the series, those gathered each week will get to know each other as people, moving from the micro issues of their own lives to the macro issues of race and social justice, Leonard says.

The series, which runs every other Thursday through Nov. 11, came out of a day long workshop held last year on race sponsored by area churches, including St. Francis Xavier "College" Church, Third Baptist Church, St. Margaret of Scotland, St. Charles Lwanga Center, and St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church.

The response was positive, says Vicki Simon, director of social ministry at St. Francis Xavier College Church, but the people there wanted more.

"It wasn't big enough, and it didn't go deep enough," Simon says of the response.

At a meeting at Midtown, where Simon is a board member, talk of race and housing came up, and Simon mentioned her own church had been speaking about the same issues. She told them about the PBS series they were thinking of playing at College Church when a woman at Midtown spoke up.

"Why don't you have your series here and discuss it with us," Simon remembers her saying. "Let's talk to each other about this instead of in separate groups."

So beginning tonight, that's what they plan to do. And then they hope to move past talking.

Leonard says they plan on seeing where the discussion evolves, and in the last two sessions, focusing more on whatever that area is, whether it's housing or safety or something else.

"We just hope in general it goes where our community decides," he says. "We want to be adaptive."

And then, Simon thinks the group will choose a course of action to take around that issue as a community.

"I guess my greatest hope is that it not only continues the conversation on race, but it starts to put some meat to the matter."

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