Participants and attendees of the Ethnic and Racial Conference held at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Thursday night delved into the sensitive topic of race relations in Pine Bluff and what can be done to improve them.
Organized by community activist Barbara Blunt Muhammad, the event included Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth, Pine Bluff interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks, City Treasurer Greg Gustek, Joy Blankenship and community activists Sam Whitfield, Jack Foster and Obrennan Moss.
Former state Rep. Efrem Elliott acted as moderator and fielded questions from the audience.
Joyce Brown of the Central Park Neighborhood Watch had a pointed question for the black panelists.
“To my black family members,” Brown said. “We have black people who move to different parts of town and think they are better than the ones that they left. What can we do as black people to love each other?”
Foster said that in his estimation the black community needs to begin to support black businesses and black churches need to begin to function in unison.
“I have a real problem with 300 or 400 churches in town,” Foster said. “You need to start supporting black businesses. After the end of segregation blacks decided that they didn’t need to support these places anymore.”
Muhammad expressed similar sentiments.
Hubanks spoke of his plans for the police department.
“My goal is to lower crime and do it right quick and in a hurry,” Hubanks said. “This will make our town more appealing for businesses and investment.”
Hollingsworth expressed her belief that a corner is being turned.
“With the recent school board elections we’ve got two fabulous school boards at Watson Chapel and Pine Bluff,” Hollingsworth said. “Dr. Linda Watson is a wonderful person. The University System has hired Dr. Laurence Alexander as the new UAPB chancellor. I believe we have turned the corner and that Pine Bluff is poised to be on the short list of employers.”
In answer to a question Hollingsworth said that youth programs are going to be rejuvenated in Pine Bluff.
“We are going to renovate the Merrill Community Center and finish the fields at Townsend Park,” Hollingsworth said. “We have Willie Roaf, Torii Hunter and Monte Coleman working on a new program for youth.”
Muhammad wanted to focus as much of the program as she could on the personal development of individuals in the community as a starting point to improve the city.
“If you don’t know your history you can’t move forward,” Muhammad said. “Understanding each other is more than what is on the surface. Addressing race and ethnicity is key.”
Muhammad provided a list of definitions to assist participants in the discussion:
“Ethnic- relating to races of mankind or to a particular race or to a group possessing common characters; relating to the heathen;
“Conference- assembly for consultation or discussion;
“Ethnically- branch of ethnology concerned with the origin or races and their blood relationships;
“Ethnography- sciences which treats comparatively of the various races of mankind, their origin, relations and differences;
“Racial- belonging to or characteristics of a race or family stock;
“Racialism- having a strong or peculiar flavor indicative of origin; of characteristic nature; pungent or piquant, spirited stimulating; vigorously racily.”