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To the Editor:

We, the undersigned, are a group of Haywood County citizens that meets regularly for a respectful dialogue around race issues. This group first fellowships together over a meal and then enters into a structured conversation aimed at understanding and appreciating our varied life experiences around race.

At our most recent gathering, we discussed a racially charged incident which happened recently in our area. We fervently believe that we need to address this incident; it should be brought out into the sunlight so we can move fully into an era when all of our residents live in safety, dignity, and without discrimination.

The situation was a reported cross burning in the yard of a home in northern Haywood County where a biracial child was visiting on May 4. Although the four-foot cross was characterized by one law officer as ‘a huge cross it was not; it was a homemade smaller cross ….,” we are heartened that the burning is being treated as a hate crime and that it is being investigated by local authorities. We encourage the inquiry to go forward.

These kinds of acts are loaded with historical memory which is painful, frightening, and disrespectful to particular members of our community. Indeed, they are a form of terrorism that has historically been used to threaten and control minority populations. We are dismayed that young people are reenacting this history of hatred and violent repression. They do not do this spontaneously. Prejudice and hatred are learned. As a community, we must come together to rethink the messages we transmit across generations.

We thank you for your attention to this matter. We believe that if anyone is made to fell unwelcome or ‘less than’ because of race, then none of us can fully know justice and equality.

We welcome anyone interested in joining our dialogue to participate with us as Changemakers for Racial Understanding. Please call 828.456.6029 for date, time, and location of our next meeting.

Barbara B. Smith, Sara Jenkins, Thelma Gibbs, Douglas K. Staiger, William Nelson Stecher, Elizabeth K. Stecher, Robert G. Fulbright, Alvin Forney, Liz Forney, Mary Elizabeth Staiger, Tom Bishop, Charles Alley, Kathryn F. Alley, Mary Alice Lodico, Mary Grace Lodico, Arlene Lukas, Helen Geltman, Mary McGlauflin, Katherine Bartel, Russell Binkley, Dr. Ari Hart, Kelly Coe, Suzi Pressley, Latuasha Forney, Rocky Turner, Mayra Vargas, Ken Roach, Ann Overbeck, John Vanderstar, Ernestine E. Upchurch, Michael Lodico, Sara Evans, Charles Dayton

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