Race plays role in talks with officials

March 11, 2007 

You don't have to be motivated by the same concerns to improve race relations.

Case in point is what's quietly going on between the city of Myrtle Beach and a faith-based community organization led by area black ministers.

The group and the city have been meeting in recent weeks on various topics, including discussing the city's bidding process, mentorship programs, cleaning up neighborhoods and a potential rhythm and blues festival.

There's nothing unusual going on, no special treatment for one group of city residents. When I sat down with Bennie Swans, a leader in the faith-based organization, city spokesman Mark Kruea and assistant city manager John Pedersen at City Hall a few weeks ago, Kruea wanted that clearly understood.

"We have a couple of neighborhoods that need a little extra assistance," Kruea said. "This is not a black or white or racial issue in any sense."

But it is. And that's OK.

A sizable percentage of black residents don't trust the government because of past slights and mistreatment. Understand that race, right or wrong, plays a significant role in how we perceive governmental action.

For example, when a zoning law changes a predominantly black neighborhood, officials may believe it's just another necessary change, while residents view it as another attempt to take their land.

City officials and the black ministers are handling it properly.

City officials are concerned with helping where they can. The black ministers are asking for access, not a handout. They want to know how to help residents take advantage of available opportunities.

City officials have taken time in small community meetings to explain the bidding process, which is helping to alleviate the fears of some small black businesses that feel they've been left out. The discussion could lead to a group petitioning City Council to revise its insurance requirements, which some consider unrealistically high - or convince clusters of one-person businesses to join together.

Black ministers want minority businesses to have a level playing field, which could benefit all small businesses. City officials are trying to respond to its residents' concerns.

It doesn't matter that they don't see the issue of race in precisely the same way.

It only matters that both groups stay committed to doing what's necessary to improve the city.

ONLINE | For past columns and to read Bailey's blog, go to MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

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