Carl Repsher: A conversation to bridge cultures

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 9, 2016

By Carl Repsher

Special to the Salisbury Post

Discussions about race almost always occur among people that look like each other and do almost nothing to create any real understanding or empathy. This is the story of an attempt to do something different.

Patricia Ricks (a retired educator and substance abuse counselor and Wiley Lash’s goddaughter) and I (a retired business person) had served on the Salisbury Planning Board together for more than three years when I contacted “PJ,” as she is known to friends. I was preparing a Sunday school lesson that was focused on a school in Jaffa, Israel, that was deliberately inclusive of Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Attempting to focus the lesson of reconciliation between historically disparate groups close to home, the conversation with PJ resulted in an initial meeting between a First Presbyterian Sunday School class and the Crown in Glory  Lutheran Church, an historically African American Church, at Crown in Glory in February.

We continued to meet each month, alternating meeting sites between First Presbyterian and Crown in Glory through June. The group took a break from regular meetings for the summer, although PJ and I continued to meet.

The incidents in Ferguson, Dallas, Minneapolis, Tulsa and ultimately Charlotte added urgency to the feeling this could happen in Salisbury. As a group we felt we should be doing something to prevent it or to at least minimize the damage.

When we began to meet we weren’t at all sure what we were trying to do but felt the need to begin, however tentatively, a conversation that could bridge different cultures. Our first meeting for this Sunday school season on Sept. 29 was at First Presbyterian and featured a presentation by Alvenia Heggins of the Human Praxis Institute, followed by discussions with the whole group as well as paired discussions with the person next to you.

PJ suggested and we all agreed that one of our activities prior to our next meeting should be to meet with someone in our group of the other race chosen at random for an hour or so to begin to get to know the other person. Our next meeting in October will include our new chief of the Salisbury Police, Jerry Stokes.

I have no idea whether this small effort will lead to something better but I think I can speak for the group when I say we all feel better to at least be trying something. Salisbury really matters to us all and we agree that the current relationship among our citizens needs to develop into to one of more understanding and caring. This article is a joint effort between PJ and I.

Carl Repsher lives in Salisbury.