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YOUNGSTOWN A neighborly theme at MLK event



Published: Tue, January 22, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A good way to celebrate the day would be to simply sit down and talk, the workshop leader said.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Elaine Wilson had lots of questions when she came to a workshop for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Why do blacks and whites live in different neighborhoods of the Mahoning Valley? Why are there mainly black schools and mainly white schools decades after "separate but equal" education was ruled unconstitutional?

She saved those questions for a small group during a break, but she did have one question for the crowd Monday during the workshop at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown.

Her question came after the workshop leader, Hedda Sharapan, encouraged the crowd to build relationships with people who are different from them. Sharapan asked them to use the break to find some common ground with someone they didn't know.

"But how can I get to be a friend of his?" Wilson asked, motioning to a man next to her. "Once this program is over, he will go his way and I will go my way and I may never see him again," said Wilson, of Canfield, who is the director of minority health affairs for Humility of Mary Health Partners.

Bringing up theme: Sharapan turned the question back to the crowd using a recurring theme from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," the children's television show of which she is associate producer.

"How do we move from wanting to be a neighbor to being a neighbor?" she asked.

The question seemed to be at the heart of her program on building bridges between people. Sharapan used clips from the television show to talk about ways of relating to people better and becoming better neighbors, including admitting mistakes, building on strengths and perseverance.

The workshop was part of a two-day program put on by a variety of faith-based organizations.

The Rev. Jim Ray of Youngstown told the crowd that he thought Youngstown had a program to build bridges but it died out.

Unity program: About five years ago, 200 people participated in Building a Bridge Toward Unity, which brought blacks and whites together in small groups to talk about racial and other issues. The groups met for discussion about five times, although some of the groups continued to meet after that, he said.

The semi-retired clergyman, who is minister of visitation at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Boardman, said the program has transformed race relations in other cities and he wishes it could get restarted here.

Sharapan suggested that people could be more aware of creating such discussions in the places where they already are, such as at a lunch table at work.

She said people of different races need to more open and honest about their feelings and experiences.

She talked about what happened at her office when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder. Blacks and white in the office had different reactions, so the Rev. Fred Rogers called the staff of 10 together and suggested they talk.

Sharapan said a male intern, who was black, told co-workers of how he was shadowed by security whenever he went into a pharmacy. Sharapan, who is white, said she didn't realize that happened and that she needed to know that.

Some advice: The Rev. Mr. Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, reminded Sharapan before coming to Youngstown that Dr. King was a man who lived in constant turmoil, both on the inside and outside. Also remember, said Mr. Rogers, that Dr. King knew that his faith and his community of faith would carry him through.

Sharapan, who is reading a biography of Dr. King, said she has been struck by the similarity between her boss's message and that of Dr. King.

Dr. King was motivated by the concept of agape, a Greek word meaning "love for mankind" or "seeing a neighbor in everyone," she said.

The "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" theme song has the recurring verse, "Won't you be my neighbor?"

shilling@vindy.com




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