More than 100 people participated in the Nov. 30 kickoff of a three-part series at the Bexley Public Library that is designed to engage individuals of different backgrounds in constructive dialogues about diversity.

Sponsors of the "Safe Conversations About Race" series include the library, the city of Bexley, the Bexley City School District, the Bexley Community Foundation and the Bexley Diversity & Inclusion Initiative.

"This is what the library should be doing -- providing a safe space for conversation," said Ben Heckman, library director.

Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said the Diversity & Inclusion Initiative formed in late 2016. The initiative is working to identify strategies that will build on existing efforts to promote diversity throughout Bexley, Kessler said.

"In 2015, the city passed an ordinance banning discrimination among all races, genders and sexual orientations," he said. "We are continuing that work."

In addition to Kessler, the program included participation by representatives from the Bexley Community Foundation and other local organizations, Bexley City Council, the Bexley Police Department, as well as school board members and administrators. A cross-section of residents of different ethnic backgrounds also participated.

"I'm so pleased to see the diversity in this room," said Suzanne Roberts, chief executive officer of UnifyingSolutions, who led the discussion along with diversity consultant Jim White and moderator L.C. Johnson.

Both Roberts and White have ties to Bexley. Roberts, who is Caucasian, grew up in Bexley and White, who is African American, is a Capital University alumnus. Johnson, who is also African American, is an administrator with the YWCA Columbus, which has presented community conversations about race in various locations around central Ohio.

Johnson led participants in an exercise in which they broke into small groups and answered questions about their experiences with discrimination and privilege based on their race. Johnson and White also shared personal encounters with racial discrimination.

Roberts spoke about growing up in Bexley. She shared a childhood experience in which a neighbor advised her parents to forbid her from playing with one of the few African-American friends she had.

"When I grew up in Bexley, there were no people of color," Roberts said.

The objective of the series is to encourage people of different backgrounds to reach out and find common ground, Roberts told participants.

"Find five people and talk to them about what you heard tonight," she said. "Don't get complacent. Use your voice and make change."

The next "Safe Conversations About Race" session is scheduled for Jan. 11 at the library. For more information, visit bexleylibrary.org.

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