The organizers of an upcoming program at the Bexley Public Library are hopeful it will promote a community-wide dialogue on race relations.

"Safe Conversations About Race," a three-part series, is set to kick off at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 in the library auditorium, 2411 E. Main St. The series is co-sponsored by the library, the city of Bexley, the Bexley City School District, the Bexley Community Foundation and the Bexley Diversity & Inclusion Initiative.

The program is designed to be an interactive discussion about race that will provide insight into Bexley's past and present, said Ken Flower, the library's director of advancement and community relations.

"Part of what people love about Bexley is they want it to be this welcoming, inclusive community," he said. "There's definitely ways that Bexley has been thoughtful and intentional at that, but we have room to grow."

Suzanne Roberts and Jim White will lead the conversation, which will be moderated by L.C. Johnson of the Columbus YWCA. Roberts, a former Bexley resident, is chief executive officer of UnifyingSolutions. White is a Capital University alumnus, author, national TEDx Talk speaker and CEO of Performance Consulting Services.

As a white woman and a black man discussing race relations locally and nationwide, they offer historical and personal perspectives, said Leann Schneider, a Bexley librarian who is one of the organizers of the program.

"Jim and Suzanne will start the conversation very casually, and the conversation develops around what the audience wants to talk about," Schneider said.

Schneider worked with Leisan Smith, director of student and community engagement with Bexley's school district, to bring this program to the library. Smith said the concept grew out of discussions members of the Bexley Diversity & Inclusion Initiative had when the group formed in late 2016.

The initiative includes the organizations that are sponsoring the "Safe Conversations About Race" program as well as representatives from Capital University and community volunteers. Smith said the group began discussing this program after she shared her experience from attending a similar event presented by the YWCA Columbus.

"We have so much going on in our country, and a lot of what we see is not always productive in terms of the conversations," Smith said. "We have to figure out a way to talk about what's going on and how we make sure we all feel welcome and supported in our community. Being able to see that we can have conversations with folks who may not look the same, who may of be of different races, is really an important start."

The Bexley Community Foundation funded the series with a grant.

The second and third installments are scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 11 and March 1 at the library.

"This three-part community program helps the Bexley Community Foundation achieve its mission, to enhance the quality of life for the Bexley community through investing in initiatives that make a positive impact," said Hallie Raskin, the foundation's executive director.

"'Safe Conversations about Race' allows our community members to engage in an interactive discussion about race in a safe place," Raskin said.

The series is part of an overall effort to emphasize the importance of diversity and enhancing Bexley's image as a welcoming community, Mayor Ben Kessler said.

"We've talked a lot at (city) council about diversity and inclusion," he said. "It's my strongly held belief that we as a city have a role in helping to foster healthy community conversations about increasing diversification in our community and making sure that residents of all stripes and all backgrounds feel welcome and embraced in Bexley.

"I think it's really important to have a program like this," Kessler said. "You'll see more and more of this type of programming and this really purposeful dialogue emerging from us and our partners as we plan ahead."

For additional information, visit bexleylibrary.org.

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