The Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations Commission took its first step to defining the city's racial problems Tuesday by asking the public to look at issues in their own neighborhoods.
"We've been doing a lot of talking, and now it's time for some action," said Chairman Kent Spruill during the meeting held by the Human Relations Commission at Lighthouse United Pentecostal Church to greet more than 60 volunteers from Augusta communities.
"With the people we have here today and support from the mayor's office, other human relations commissioners and the city commissioners, we can move beyond just talk," he said.
The volunteers will be divided into three groups of 20 people to help the commission find the city's racial injustices then discuss solutions to solve them.
Mr. Spruill asked the individuals to question people in their communities and find answers to four questions dealing with race relations:
What is the nature of Augusta's problem?
What should people do to make progress on race relations?
What kind of public policies will help the city deal with race relations?
How can Augusta move forward from words to actions?
Mr. Spruill told volunteers to be open and honest while discussing the answers in their groups.
"Don't say things you think someone wants to hear," he said. "If you feel it, say it.
"That's the only way we're going to accomplish our goals."
Dylan Carey, a black man and teacher at T.W. Josey High School, said the biggest problem with race is that people don't want to deal with it.
"It's too controversial and they just can't attack it," he said. "You have to stop playing politics.
"People in government are more worried about being elected. You have to throw that out the door and do what's right."
Yvonne Harrop, a white woman and member of Augustans Together, said a solution to racial prejudice is having people come together spiritually.
"There are a lot of good souls that recognize a need for a solution," Ms. Harrop said. "It's time to work for mankind.
"It will take a a lot of willing hands and hearts to get it done, and that's what we have."
The problem of race has become a roadblock for the city of Augusta, overshadowing some of the day-to-day issues dealing with local government.
"One of the things we haven't come to realize that we are moving from a majority white community to a majority African-American community," said Augusta Mayor Bob Young, who attended the meeting. "With that comes a shift in dynamics, and we're going through those growing pains.
"At the end of the day, what we want is a progressive community with well-educated children and adults, jobs with paid wages to keep people here and attractions to compete with other cities. The key to all that is working together as one city, one community and as one people."
Reach Albert Ross at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.