Our View: Forum will tackle important topics, issues

A grassroots effort is behind an upcoming candidates forum that will touch on important topics as the election nears.

Better Together Winchester is a group comprised of individuals who participated in last year’s Public Innovators Lab hosted by the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in partnership with The Greater Clark Foundation.

The lab focused on addressing issues described in the “Waving Our Community’s Flag Report,” which the Harwood Institute published in 2017 for GCF.

The report, which can be accessed through The Sun’s website at winchestersun.com, revealed some overarching themes from conversations with dozens of residents. One of those themes is real divides hold the community back.

“There are a series of fault lines in the community — including races, where people live, religious denominations and old vs. new, among others — that are blocking the community’s progress,” the report states. “The community must bridge these dividing lines or risk stifling progress and losing hope.”

The report shares real comments from those who were interviewed for the study, although the sources remain anonymous.

“There is still a gross ignorance about what are other’s cultures,” one white leader in the community was noted as saying. “It’s almost comical how much we don’t know about each other.”

Another noted, “Some just wanted to build a wall and say, ‘Well, if you could just get rid of that group, this community would be OK.’”

And as one person said, “We have an issue with race. So I think if we truly want to know the impact of racism in our society, we have to talk to the African-American members of our community and get their perspective.”

These sentiments were echoed widely throughout the report.

An African-American community member put it this way: “I don’t know what everybody else has said, but we just sweep it under the rug. The community is segregated by race. Now, we don’t have riots and shootings every single night; no, that is not what I am saying. But there is still a great divide here.”

“The town struggles with diversity. It hasn’t embraced diversity and recognized it or addressed it properly,” another said.

Better Together Winchester chose to tackle he issue of race relations in the community and has spent months meeting to talk more about the issues and gain an understanding of where a solution may lie.

Putting talk into action, BTW is taking the issues straight to the top — elected leaders.

With an upcoming election, BTW will offer candidates an opportunity to focus the issues of race and unheard voices.

So far, more than 20 candidates for public office have accepted an invitation to tackle these issues with a forum set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 27. The forum is open to the public and will be streamed live on The Winchester Sun’s Facebook page.

While other forums may focus on more broad-reaching issues, this forum will focus on how elected officials can work towards equality, break down barriers and give sufficient representation for all members of the community, including those who are marginalized or underrepresented.

This includes many minority groups, from the African-American community, low-income families, non-Christian or non-religious individuals, those with disabilities, immigrants and more.

Questions at the forum will be framed based on the finding of the Harwood Institute’s report and other community input.

We encourage the community to familiarize itself with the report’s findings and think critically about how candidates might be able to tackle these problems. This forum will help candidates who are passionate about these issues rise to the surface.

In a time when the country seems to be divided by a number of issues, forums like this can help the community unite under a common goal: making all voices in our community heard and equally represented.