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More talk, less hate

See the Sons of Confederate Veterans raise their gargantuan flag.

See the Uhurus mock the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Feel the undercurrent of insensitivity running underneath our community.

In both cases, the groups employ over-the-top means to draw attention to their beliefs. If someone gets offended in the process, so be it. Disagree with them, try to explain your countering viewpoint, and its likely to start a shouting match.

If you want to know what I'm talking about, look at the comments underneath the two most recent stories on the Uhurus and the Confederates on tampabay.com. There's no shortage of shameful spewing from all sides: Confederate supporters are toothless, and protesters are socialists. Uhurus are clowns, and their opponents are moronic.

Tampa Bay's river of hate bubbles to the top during these controversial moments, but it's always roiling, lurking just under the surface.

Although Tampa police have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to hate crimes and probably classify more offenses under that category than the usual, it's still worth noting that Tampa leads the state of Florida in the number of reported hate crimes, according to the FBI.

"There are 56 hate groups in the state of Florida," Community Tampa Bay executive director Stacie Blake said. "It ranges from the Ku Klux Klan to black separatist groups. It doesn't matter who you are, somebody is ready to hate you."

Community Tampa Bay exists to deal with this undercurrent of anger. Instead of diatribes, it promotes dialogues. Blake likes to say Community Tampa Bay tries to change one heart and one mind at a time.

Through its programs such as Anytown, a youth leadership and diversity program, the nonprofit organization strives to create a community free of discrimination and all those isms that can plague how we treat each other. Blake and her staff are renewed each time an Anytown participant says, "When I walked in here I was such a racist. Now I get it."

Still, cynics will scoff at the lofty goal of ending discrimination. Blake begs to differ.

"We use that Margaret Mead quote a lot: 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people is the only thing that can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.' I think there's also more evidence that our dreams are the same than that they're different."

Really, what we want for ourselves is largely the same. Health, wealth, safety, security. It's the differences that divide us, if we let them.

This year, Community Tampa Bay staged separate seminars regarding interfaith differences, immigration issues and lesbian, gay and transgendered discrimination. Some of the conversations prove challenging, but Blake says problems can't be fixed if you don't talk about them.

And what happens if you ignore them?

In Sarasota this week, an African-American teen shot a white teen sporting the Confederate flag. The victim is recovering, the shooter has been arrested, but two lives has been irrevocably changed.

Where would they be today if they had engaged in dialogues instead of diatribes?

Go to www.community tampabay.org to learn more.

That's all I'm saying.

More talk, less hate 05/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 1, 2009 11:51pm]
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