Racism has existed in this country for centuries. We are at a tipping point in our society. We have reached the crossroad in life where tough decisions have to be made. The chronic divisiveness which has finally reached a boiling point is a creating a sense of uncomfortable and questionable ways to move forward.

It has sparked a national call for unity. We search for strategies to undercut the damaging effects of racism and seek ways to end a vicious cycle. We meet at the crossroads of this life with uncertainty as to which road do we follow, where the stop sign is racism? Which road do we take? Do we take the road together to begin removing the dark cloud that has hung over our heads for centuries? Do we make an honest conscious decision to begin to overcome our nation’s biggest thorn in our side? We need to realize that together we can accomplish the impossible. Or do we continue going down that road which ultimately will lead to the deterioration and demise of any hope of empowering and uniting our country as one people.

This calls for change. The question remains, is the country prepared and ready to make that change? Change has never been an easy task. We are confronted and challenged with age old practices, mindsets, giving rise to divineness.

I feel that we need continuous dialogue about racism from every aspect; dialogues where preconceived notions, stereotypes and prejudices are left at the door. True dialogue begins with a clear conscious. You cannot come to the table having pre-judgments and expect positive results to find ways for effective best practices to combat racism.

I don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to come to the table to make a start. We must not be afraid to challenge our innermost hearts and minds on the question of morals and values which has shaped in some ignorance and love in others. Become a change agent and take a chance on improving race relations in this town. Resistance to change will be the roadblock or the deterrent to making a difference. I challenge every white person to meet us halfway at the table, bringing a frame of mind of working together.

“There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know.” ― James BaldwinThe Fire Next Time

I have tasked myself to become a voice for Afro-Americans in our community, to share their personal experiences and accounts of racism living in this community. I have been given an opportunity, a platform through writing columns in RiverheadLOCAL, thanks to Denise Civiletti, to share your experience and struggle to survive up to this point. There is an opportunity to express deep concerns of Afro-Americans about racism that has gone unnoticed.

Allow me to inform my audience just who Afro-Americans are through your stories. Contrary to popular belief, we are not what this society has branded and labeled us to be. We are the by-products of a race of people who have endured and survived the injustice of racism through slavery and its defects. We have made essential contributions to the makings of this country and continue to be productive, making leaps and bounds to make this country great! There is a need to know. Please understand and know us!

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Lawrence Street is an educator and an advocate for education reform focusing on children with special needs. He has taught in Riverhead and New York City and held education administration positions in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A native of Riverhead, he has always been a proponent for social justice and community awareness.