A cross-section of Bexley residents -- some lifelong, others new to the community -- shared observations and potential solutions to racial and socioeconomic diversity during the local Big Table event Aug. 28 at Bexley City Hall.
The city of Bexley convened a morning and an evening session, with about 15 participants at each, for the purpose of identifying some issues facing the community and how to address them, Bexley Councilwoman Mary Gottesman said.
Bexley's event was one of dozens of Big Table discussions that took place throughout central Ohio. The Columbus Foundation started the day-long event four years ago to bring residents together to learn from each other.
Gottesman said Bexley invited residents to participate in the Big Table discussion through an announcement in the Bexley Blast, the city's weekly newsletter.
Many participants said they would like for the city to be more inclusive.
"I feel detached, even though I've been here for 20 years," said Michelle Krall. "My experience is primarily through my children, and my observation is that there is a lot of social pressure to fit in and it's very clique-ish."
Connie Lewis, a 39-year Bexley resident who is a member of the city's historic preservation working group, said she has observed residents clustering in groups based on race and socioeconomic status. She suggested that increasing housing options could help bridge divides.
"Bexley's a great city. We have (Columbus School for Girls) and St. Charles and Capital University as well as our Bexley public schools and they're all very good and they should be accessible to a lot of people," Lewis said. "But Bexley doesn't have much affordable housing, and I see that as an issue."
Stacy Grossman, who is also a member of the Bexley's historic preservation working group and helped to coordinate the Big Table discussion, said one solution that could help foster more understanding among neighbors is parents taking an active role in teaching their children to respect differences in race, religion and socioeconomic status.
"How do we change that mentality that has been passed down, especially families that are families of wealth and are passing that on to their children?" Grossman said. "These are deficiencies that I have seen."
Mike Denison, a member of the Bexley City Schools Board of Education, said some residents may fear the change that increased racial and socioeconomic diversity would bring.
"I think that prevents us from having discussions about how we can get there and still preserve what we think is really great about our community," he said.
Rachel Kappas, who said she recently moved to Bexley after living in New Albany and other central Ohio communities, said she enjoys Bexley's proximity to downtown Columbus and walkable neighborhoods. But she said she also would like to see more inclusiveness of different kinds of people.
Kappas said one solution is "to have more people to step outside of their comfort zone to work with others or help others."
Bryan Drewry, an African-American member of the Bexley Minority Parents Alliance, which offers academic support and resources to minority students, said deed restrictions and real estate redlining practices in the mid-20th century contributed to a long-standing lack of diversity in the Bexley area.
Toward the end of the event, Gottesman asked participants to identify strategies to build on Bexley's strengths and make the city more welcoming. She said she plans to continue the discussion through the city's Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, a community groups that she helps to facilitate.
"We are going to ask all of the major organizations in Bexley ... to endorse the plan that we have for improving our openness and welcoming-ness toward our differences and celebrating them," she said.