The Rev. Larry Fryer and Medical College of Georgia professor Andy Reese are going into the bridge-building business together.
With the help of other concerned citizens, their bridge will be constructed with open and honest communication, suspended by hope and unity and cemented with a commitment from blacks and whites to foster racial harmony.
The two members of Augustans Together, an organization focused on improving race relations, are initiating a program called Building Bridges. The program pulls together black and white community leaders and residents to discuss racial issues and plan strategies for improvement.
"We want to promote some frank and open dialogue and dispel some of the misconceptions blacks and whites have about each other," said Dr. Reese, an immunology professor. "One misconception is that there's no understanding, that people don't want to see it work."
Dr. Reese got the idea of the Building Bridges program from Asheville, N.C., which has successfully implemented the program and has offered to help Augusta do the same.
Members of Augustans Together are developing a curriculum for six seminars. The group is gathering information on what major issues have divided the races and what are the roots of problems, he said.
The six topics are: "Honoring Our Diversity," "Stereotypes, Prejudices and Racism," "Racism and Schools," "Racism and the Church," "Economic Impact of Racism" and "Call to Action."
"We'll look at what the economic situation is and look at how many black businesses there are and the effects of affirmative action," Dr. Reese said. "What do we mean by racism? There will be evenings devoted to racism in education, government and churches, which have been a problem and solution."
The Rev. Fryer said one of his main interests is getting churches to play the role they should in promoting interaction and unity between blacks and whites. Churches are community pillars that don't always serve as the shining examples people would expect, he said.
"One of the most segregated places is the church. The first place this should start is in the house of God," he said.
"The secular world looks at the church and says `They're not doing it so why should we?"' the Rev. Fryer said. "The church is living in a comfort zone instead of the war zone. The churches need to be out there."
The Building Bridges program is expected to begin in March or April with seminars two or three times a year.
The group will invite politicians to participate in the sessions to improve the relationships of black and white government officials, Dr. Reese said. But he said officials have been purposely left out of the planning to prevent political agendas from clouding issues.
"We want political people involved," he said. "It's been obvious that with interaction of blacks and whites on the city council, board of education or any organization you can name, there's been distrust and misconceptions between members and we want to decrease some of that."
Another goal will be to encourage people not to vote along racial lines, but to vote for qualified candidates, the Rev. Fryer said.
"We want it where whites no longer support whites, blacks no longer support blacks, but support who's best," he said. "We no longer want things based on race, but things based on humanity."
For information about the program, call Dr. Reese at 733-0421.
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