TAMPA — Nearly three years ago, Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson was preparing for a Monday Night Football game when he heard about the racial unrest in Ferguson, Mo. After a grand jury voted to not indict a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man, the community's response was violence.
In his frustration, Watson wrote a Facebook post that went viral. He described his anger, fear, embarrassment and confusion because he said violence always seemed to outweigh communication. "At some point, my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all it entails,'' he wrote.
At the same time, Watson wrote that he was encouraged and hopeful because "ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it's a SIN problem. … SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn.''
The reaction to Watson's Facebook post ultimately inspired him to write a book — "Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race. Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us.'' — that was a frank discussion of racial tensions and how Americans can move toward solutions.
Now it has prompted a one-of-a-kind event — "Under Our Skin: A Forum on Race & Faith'' — to be held Thursday night at the Crossing Church in Tampa. ESPN's Sage Steele, formerly a sports reporter for Tampa's ABC-TV affiliate, will be the moderator for a panel that includes Watson; former Bucs coach Tony Dungy, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who became the first black coach to win a Super Bowl championship; first-year University of South Florida coach Charlie Strong; former quarterback Danny Wuerffel, the 1996 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida; and former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn, who won the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
General admission for the event, presented by Tyndale House Publishers, is $29.99 with VIP packages available for $199. The forum will be streamed live on the Internet. More information is available at underourskinforum.com.
Dungy said he hopes the event will resonate with the audience.
"Communication and understanding are always the key things and I also think it's important to look at it from a Christian perspective; what responsibilities do we have to make it better?'' said Dungy, a Tampa resident. "What can we do as citizens, as a nation? The process starts with two-way communication. Not just talking, but listening and hearing.
"As much as our country has been integrated, we still have a lot of people who haven't been exposed to other cultures. That's why it's important to communicate and not just complain.''
Watson said it's a thoughtful panel, one that should be filled with insight. More importantly, he wants to explore solutions.
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"Our hope is when we leave this forum, we will have practical ideas about how to take the talk to action,'' Watson said. "What we have a lot of right now is a lot of bickering and a lot of ideas. My hope is when you come, you will leave with practical tools in your tool belt.
"You can take those back to your dining room tables, churches, communities, teams and workplaces. We can learn how to bridge the gap when it comes to repentance, when it comes to forgiveness, when it comes to moving forward, when it comes to standing up and being united with each other, when it comes to race.''