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JERRY HICKS

Dialogue on Diversity Also Involves Listening

October 18, 1997|JERRY HICKS

Dialogue too often winds up as back-to-back monologues. We sometimes only listen when something supports our own agenda. But in dialogue, at least somebody is trying. And few topics need more open discussion than race in America.

That's why Cal State Fullerton and the League of Women Voters of Orange County are trying to get us talking. On Oct. 28, the two will co-host the third in a series of town hall dialogues on cultural diversity in this county. The first two--in what they bill as an American Dialogue Series--were on Vietnamese and Latinos. This one will be on African Americans.

At a preview dinner Thursday night at the Southwest Senior Center in Santa Ana, African American panelists voiced many frustrations that not enough is being done by either whites or blacks to tackle race issues. Hearing what they have to say is an education.

There was the Rev. James D. Carrington, pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church of Yorba Linda, telling about his difficulties in buying a house in Orange County during the 1960s--until he bought it through another party so the lending company would be unaware he was black.

There was Cal State Fullerton student Adrienne Franklin, concerned that others don't see her generation as productive, or future leaders. Franklin is a leader of a campus group called Sistertalk, young African American women who meet to explore common goals.

And there was Allen Dolby, former executive director of recreation and community services for the city of Santa Ana, warning that the county is simply not sensitive enough to the needs of African Americans.

The most dynamic speaker of the night was Thomas Parham, assistant vice chancellor of counseling and health services at UC Irvine. "Our biggest problem in the black community isn't gangs, or drugs, or welfare," he said. "It's our need for mental liberation.

The young man gravitating toward a gang, Parham said, can be saved "if I can rearrange for him how he thinks." Also from Parham: "Culture is not skin color; it's a design for living."

Parham will be on the panel at the Oct. 28 town hall. I venture that any of us would benefit from hearing more of what he has to say.

On occasion during the night I found myself defensive. I'm always a bit skeptical when someone says that if you disagree with him, it's because you are ignorant of the facts. And when Franklin began criticizing Orange County teachers as insensitive to the needs of ethnic students, I immediately thought of dozens of dedicated teachers I know here who work hard for such students.

But you have to stop yourself: Are you here to listen or be defensive? Maybe Franklin is right, that there are some teachers like that. Certainly that's been her experience. And that's what dialogue is mostly about, listening to the experiences of others.

At first the only people to ask any questions were African Americans. Toward the end, a few white people spoke up. But the one concern of all who spoke: America continues to be confused by its race problems and what to do about them.

A Re-Creation: Maybe you remember those huge tents on the lawn at the White House in the spring of 1973, when Richard Nixon welcomed home the Vietnam prisoners of war with a formal dinner for them and their families. The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda plans to re-create that same dinner in early 1998 for the 25th anniversary of the POWs' release. Director John Taylor says every POW in the country--about 650, including 60 in California--will be invited. No date has been set yet.

Going After Gates: Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates' decision not to seek reelection in 1998 is a stunner because he has won handily every time he has run.

Gates has made many a friend and more than a few foes. But on Oct. 30, he will be surrounded by supporters. The Boy Scouts of America will honor Gates with their Spurgeon Award for his service to the Scouts' Explorers program. It's a big-name event. Supervisor Jim Silva is the luncheon chair. Emcee will be former Olympic organizer and baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

For the Princess: Lots of Orange County residents with Scottish backgrounds will be at the annual Loch Prado Pacific Highland Gathering & Games on Saturday and Sunday at Prado Regional Park, 16700 S. Euclid Ave. in Chino. Special this year will be a tree planting and memorial stone in honor of Princess Diana. Organizers say it's because of her "compassion for children, the sick and victims of war."

The Orange County liaison is Elise Maglaughlin at (714) 633-2316.

Wrap-Up: The American Dialogue Series is the brainchild of Robert Emry, chairman of the speech communications department at Cal State Fullerton. But when I talked to Emry, he gave the credit to former Yorba Linda mayor Irwin Fried, who suggested it while serving on one of Emry's university committees.

The series' format: set up dinner discussions to precede the town hall, what Emry calls a "dress rehearsal." The dinner is always in a location where the ethnic group feels comfortable. Thursday night, several leaders mentioned that the Southwest Center has long been a home to Orange County African Americans.

Emry is firm in his conviction that America's races need to spend more time talking to each other. "If we have a future as a country," he said, "we need to advocate policy that cuts across our ethnic differences."

The Oct. 28 town hall session will take place at 7 p.m. at the Titan Student Union on the Cal State Fullerton campus. It will be televised live on public access channels.

Jerry Hicks' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or by fax to (714) 966-7711, or e-mail to jerry.hicks@latimes.com

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