Omaha educator calls for more open talks on race

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February 22nd, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Race relations could be a lot better in Omaha, if we talked more about it. That’s the perspective of long-time activist and educator A’Jamal Byndon.

“How do I know what’s going on in your world, unless you and I break bread and talk about it?” A’Jamal Byndon asked about two dozen people at a Republican luncheon in west Omaha recently. Call it practicing what you preach. Byndon is breaking bread and talking about race relations from the diverse perspective of an African-American who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, has taught college diversity courses, and is an Omaha native.

Professor A’Jamal Byndon is an executive board member of Omaha Table Talk. (Photo courtesy University of Nebraska at Omaha)

“I graduated from Central High School,” he said, “and I remember that Huckleberry Finn book where they got that “N” word in it, and all the students in my classroom would turn around and look at me when that “N” word got there, and I would turn around and look at the wall like, why are they lookin’ at me? But what was painful was not the word in and of itself, [it’s that] it was not used as an object lesson to help us understand why we need to treat each other with respect.”

“And here we are, 31 years later, talking about some of these very issues that we should have addressed years ago.”

Byndon calls Omaha an almost perfect microcosm of the United States, when it comes to racial make-up and the percentage of African-Americans.

“So when I drive down the street, I want to see 30 percent of the people in different situations. But that isn’t the case. We live in our own little silos, we live in our certain communities, and often times we are segregated not because we want to be, but because segregation basically says it’s that way because we don’t have a choice in that.”

Byndon said solutions can’t happen until people start talking about the situation. That’s the reason he attended the luncheon, and the reason he leads a project called Omaha Table Talk, which promotes informal gatherings of people of different races and cultures.

“Race relations is not at an all-time high, it’s at an all-time low,” he said. “There are people who will sit down and say, I’ve never broken bread across from someone who’s a different racial group. And here we are in 2011, and folks can say that in an integrated community like Omaha?”

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