Saturday, June 12

Bridge-builders gather in Santee to move beyond political polarization


The event in a Santee park Saturday afternoon had all the trappings of a picnic with friends. The sun was out, music played, food was on the table.

It was a nice day to talk about hate.

Setche Kwamu-Nana, a diversity and equity trainer, invited about 15 people — some liberal, some conservative; some Black, some White — so they could listen to each other and maybe move beyond the political and racial divides that leave people pointing fingers at each other.

“If you want to build bridges and help each other cultivate empathy in our highly polarized society, please join us,” she wrote in the invitation. “All opinions are welcome! We only encourage you to come with an open mind and listen and share respectfully.”

She knew all the invitees, but she couldn’t be certain what would happen. At a similar event she was invited to months ago, in a park in Lakeside, she got shouted at by people who didn’t know her or her story.

Saturday the only noise came from the nearby freeway.

The participants stood in a circle by a gazebo in West Hills Park and said over and over that what they wanted most from the gathering was to learn. To understand. To be part of the solution.

Even when their notions about what needs to be solved diverged, they were polite and respectful.

One White woman expressed bewilderment at the young ages of the Black Lives Matters protesters who took to the streets last year. She suggested they had been indoctrinated in the public schools to hate their country.

A Black man offered a different interpretation. The protesters were in the streets, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, because they don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods, he said. “We all want to feel safe,” he said.

Around the circle, people nodded.

Yousef Miller speaks to the group during a bridge-building exercise during the “Weed Out Hate” event at West Hills Park in Santee on Saturday.

(Sandy Huffaker/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Saturday’s event was timed to coincide with “Weed-Out Hate Day,” a public-awareness campaign that started several years ago in the Midwest.

Kwamu-Nana, who is Black, said she was moved to host it because she has been on her own journey past polarization. A country music fan, she no longer felt welcome in that world as cowboy hats and American flags increasingly became associated with right-wing causes.

“I got scared whenever I saw them,” she said. “But I didn’t want that trauma to be permanent.”

She decided to attend conservative-oriented events, mostly to listen but sometimes to converse with people or make public comments during open-mic sessions. Several of the people at Saturday’s circle met her at a recent “Re-Open California” protest.

During a BLM demonstration in Santee last year, she walked by a White counter-protester who took off his coronavirus mask as she passed and said, “I can’t breathe,” a comment she took to be a taunt. It’s what George Floyd had said in his final moments.

Left, Mike Forzano, from Santee, speaks during a bridge-building exercise during the "Weed Out Hate"

Left, Mike Forzano, from Santee, speaks during a bridge-building exercise during the “Weed Out Hate” event at West Hills Park in Santee on Saturday.

(Sandy Huffaker/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Kwamu-Nana kept walking, but returned 20 minutes later and waded into the group of counter-protesters. She told the man that what he’d said hurt and offended her.

He turned out to be Mike Forzano, an organizer of the controversial group Defend East County, who left it to form his own group, Exiled Patriots. Both groups counter-protested at BLM events over the summer.

Forzano was at Saturday’s event. He said Kwamu-Nana showed courage coming back and confronting him. “I didn’t even realize what I had said and I apologized,” he said. His wife, Robyn, called it a turning point in their understanding that “words have meaning, words have power.”

Symbols do, too. On Saturday, as she led the circle, Kwamu-Nana wore a cowboy hat.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Call Now