Canal Winchester quarterly town-hall meeting focuses on racism
A unified message came from those who participated in a June 23 town-hall meeting held via a live video feed from the Frances Steube Community Center: Racism has no place in Canal Winchester.
The meeting was the latest in a series of gatherings Canal Winchester City Council began holding quarterly last fall in order to have informal conversations with residents.
Jenna Acklin of Franklin Street opened the meeting by describing her 9-year-old daughter's recent encounter with a neighbor who called police because the girl used colored chalk to write "Black Lives Matter" on the street in front of their residence.
"My daughter, Mira, asked why people were protesting," Acklin said. "After I explained (George Floyd's death) in 9-year-old terms, she couldn't imagine hating one of her best friends because she was Black."
Acklin said the neighbor came out of her residence and screamed at Mira before calling Fairfield County Sheriff's Office deputies, who explained to the woman that it was "just chalk" and encouraged Mira to continue.
Council members listened to Acklin and others from Town Hall, where they implemented social distancing and were able to see and hear residents who were speaking from the community center.
However, it was difficult to hear the content of council members' comments.
"It's sad we have people like this in our community," councilman Pat Lynch said.
Councilman Bob Clark told Acklin he was sorry that "you and your daughter had to experience that sickening display of humanity in our town. I wish it wouldn't have happened. But I know there are a lot of good people in our community."
"I don't need you to feel bad for my daughter," Acklin said. "She was scared by this, but now she's empowered. My pain is white privilege. I know those words stab people. I'm willing to take it."
Christopher Burton of Gallant Drive said his daughter gave him the courage to speak at the meeting. She wanted to help Mira, and the two girls created new chalk art in the street.
"My daughter comes up to me and says, 'There's a little girl who needs support, and she doesn't look like me,' " Burton said. "I want people to think positively about how the community came together. ... When we see one another down, why can't we do that for one another?"
More than a dozen residents addressed council about racism in the city.
Dawn Funnoe, who lives near Acklin, said she doesn't want to regret her family's decision to move to Canal Winchester after seeing this incident and others.
She recalled one of her first encounters with a resident.
"The first thing she did was warn us about 'those people on the other side of U.S. 33' and how they were bringing down property values," Funnoe said.
Amanda Lemke, Canal Winchester events and communications coordinator, said the city is "spearheading" several community-engagement initiatives, including the Community Health Action Team, which partners with Franklin County Public Health. The group meets monthly to discuss issues related to public health.
Its most recent meeting focused on confronting racism, Lemke said.
"We hosted a very productive meeting on June 17, with participation from many concerned community members, and have since reached out to Canal Winchester schools to co-sponsor community education related to discovering implicit bias," she said. "Additional details are forthcoming."
CHAT participants also were asked to submit additional suggestions "for programming related to engaging our community in positive ways," Lemke said.
The next CHAT meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 15.
Mayor Mike Ebert said a demonstration against racism in Canal Winchester is scheduled July 11. The event, described as a peaceful protest, will begin at 11 a.m. in the Walmart parking lot, 6674 Winchester Blvd., and head downtown. Ebert said he has had a good discussion with organizers of that event.
"Do the right thing and change Canal Winchester, the Canal Winchester I love," Acklin said. "There is too much racism happening here."