Lake County Panel on Racial Diversity Isn't All That Diverse

Organizers in Lake County are questioning a forum on race and the criminal justice system to be held at Painesville’s Harvey High School Wednesday evening. The forum, billed as the first in a series of conversations about diversity, was initially spearheaded by the Lake County NAACP and the Lake County Prosecutor.

In fact a committee, called “Begin the Conversation,” was formed to facilitate these discussions. And though Organize Lake County members are heartened by the prospect of engagement with leaders, they’re concerned about the messaging.

“The predominant narrative that has been presented to the media is that this panel is happening to prevent the type of unrest that took place in Baltimore and Ferguson from happening in Lake County,” wrote Raven Nyamwihura and Maggie Rice in an as yet unpublished letter to the News-Herald. “As is often the case, the focus is on preventing property damage, rather than addressing real concerns that people of color have, which are what leads to unrest.”

(At the very least, the forum is being held at Harvey, and not at Willoughby South, home to the Confederate-flag toting "Rebels.")

Nyamwihura and Rice told Scene in a phone conversation that they were also bothered by the composition of the panel itself. Members include local NAACP president Al Jones, Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson, Common Pleas Judge Richard Collins, Mentor Police Chief Kevin Knight, La Nueva Mia radio station 88.3 FM owner (and former Cleveland City Councilman) Nelson Cintron, Painesville Schools Superintendent John Shepard and Lake County Commissioner Judy Moran.

“There are only two people of color and not a single woman of color on the panel,” Rice said. (Nyamwihura said she volunteered to sit on the panel herself).

And in terms of inclusion, Rice and Nyamwihura argued that an equally important issue was the fact that Begin the Conversation was composed of leaders — “mayors, religious leaders, judges, police chiefs, prosecutors,” etc. — but that beyond the NAACP, there wasn’t representation from (or outreach to) “anti-racist groups.”

“If the main concern of the panel is to prevent unrest, as has been stated repeatedly in the media, why did no one on the “large committee” seek out community organizers themselves to offer perspective on how organizing and activism takes place in Lake County?” They asked.

The “keynote speaker” at the forum will be Rev. Michael Nwankwo, pastor of Calvary CME Church in Painesville. He’ll give a talk called “Hope and Individual Responsibility” before a Q&A.

Nwankwo told the News-Herald that he’s excited for community members to become “part of the conversation.”

“We want them to ask the tough questions,” Nwankwo said. “Don’t bring your softballs. This is the major leagues, bring that sweeping curveball at us. As long as it’s really in your heart, bring.”

But Rice and Nyamwihura wonder how tough the questions for the panel can be — and whether or not they’ll be screened — if leaders won’t even respond to requests about the make-up of the panel in the first place. 

The conversation begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Harvey