Best Practices

CITY OF LIMA
Mayor David J. Berger

Study Circle

The jewel in Lima's crown of collaborative problem-solving is the Study Circle program on race relations. The City of Lima, in partnership with Lima's clergy and The Ohio State University at Lima developed the race relations program entitled "Can't We All Just Get Along?" with assistance from the Study Circles Resource Center (SCRC). The city-University partnership then developed implementation plans in conjunction with a 12-member Task Force of Lima's clergy. The program involved over 1,250 people in study circles about racism at 47 churches and Lima's only synagogue, the Allen/Lima Leadership alumnae, and the general public. Now the program has been expanded to the business community and neighborhood organizations, as well as being incorporated into the high school curriculum of the Lima city schools.

Local racial tensions were exacerbated by the broadcast of the Rodney King beating by Los Angeles Police Department officers. Many people still remembered local riots that tore Lima's social fabric in the early 1970s. The local unrest led Lima's Mayor to challenge local clergy to get acquainted and to introduce their congregations to one another through peaceful exchanges about the racism permeating daily life in Lima. The clergy were willing, but a vehicle for such an exchange was lacking, so the city approached The Ohio State University at Lima (OSU-Lima). Together they developed the study circle program.

The purpose of the race relations program was to counter negative racist attitudes and actions by introducing individuals from all demographic groups to each other in a structured setting that encouraged individuals to examine their own views about race and to listen to each others' ideas. To facilitate the initial exchange, predominantly white congregations were paired with predominantly black congregations.

Program outcomes exceeded the original mission:

The program fostered a network between blacks and whites with communication channels crossing interracial boundaries; this eased racial tensions and improved community race relations. A newsletter is published periodically to give news of related events.

Local institutional barriers have fallen; the visual arts organization, ArtSpace/Lima, and the Lima Symphony Orchestra (LSO) have established minority audience development committees and initiated minority outreach activities. A Key Club for community service has been established with interracial membership at Lima Senior High School.

Informal friendships have developed across racial and denominational lines, resulting in activities like community picnics, interracial church functions, a community choir, informal social exchanges, and a group float in the Labor Day Parade. Churches have expanded their activities far beyond the original mandate. A second program function evolved: teaching other localities how to implement the program. Following an invited presentation of the program at the 1994 meeting of the National Civic League, approximately 30 other communities have inquired about the program, which produced a video program and manual to assist cities interested in replicating the five-month study circle program. Grand Rapids, MI and Springfield, OH have modeled parts of Lima's program. The City-University-Clergy partnership has made several presentations and recently hosted a conference entitled the "Midwest Conference on Creating Community Wide Dialogue on Race Relations".

A syndicated one-hour documentary, Story of Our People: Interracial Relationships, was produced and aired on about 40 TV stations nationwide in October 1994.

Currently, participants and organizers have extended the Study Circles' approach to examine the issue of urban violence. Future plans include using the Study Circles, in conjunction with a city-wide information campaign, to invite Lima's citizenry to take an active role in its new community policing program.

Contact: Ronald J. Hagaman, (419) 221-5282

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