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Hey Philly, let's talk race

Philadelphians need to talk abour our pain, our challenges and our hopes.

File photo: From left, Mona Washington, Ricardo Soto-Lopez of Sanford, Fla., and Sharmain Matlock-Turner during the MLK 365 Beer Summit on Race Relations in July 2014 at Reading Terminal Market. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
File photo: From left, Mona Washington, Ricardo Soto-Lopez of Sanford, Fla., and Sharmain Matlock-Turner during the MLK 365 Beer Summit on Race Relations in July 2014 at Reading Terminal Market. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)Read more

WHEN'S THE last time we talked, Philly?

I'm not talking about the defensive, knee-jerk, Kanye-esque "I'ma gonna let you finish" just-so-I-can-set-you-straight chatter that passes for conversation these days.

I mean real talk, which means listening - especially when it comes to issues that make us angry and defensive and uncomfortable, like race and ethnicity.

Yes, I'm talking about race again. But I am not the only one, because it's a conversation we need to have over and over and over again in Philadelphia and across the country.

Because, well: Ferguson, most recently.

The need to talk about race isn't just about cases that resonate nationally. It's about issues in our own back yards and in our own heads and hearts.

It's about the subtle and not-so-subtle assumptions we make about one another, about the ingrained beliefs that color our view of the world and the people around us, about the prejudices we own and those we don't even admit to ourselves.

Until we start talking. And more importantly, sharing stories in a way that NewCORE, an interfaith group that's been having these kinds of conversations for years, will continue today at the Daily News.

That gathering, for African-American leaders in the city, will be followed with numerous neighborhood conversations throughout December. To register for today's event, which is almost full, go to: For more information and to register for future events, search for NewCORE events on

"We are convinced that sincere conversation has the power to reconcile people and create community," said the Rev. Steven Lawrence, chairman of NewCORE, which stands for New Conversations on Race and Ethnicity.

"We're accustomed to responding to blogs and articles one line at a time, one incident at a time. But that really isn't conversation," he said.

A conversation, the folks at NewCORE believe, begins with sharing stories.

"In personal stories, there's a truth to be heard," Lawrence said.

And, as with most truths, it's not always easy to hear.

"We have a moral obligation to be proactive in providing a context and a framework, for people of color in particular, to be able to give voice to concerns around the issues that prompt tensions as we saw in Ferguson, and St. Louis and Staten Island and so many other locations around the nation," said the Rev. Malcolm T. Byrd, president of NewCORE. "But we also recognize that it's not enough to create opportunities for people to vent their frustrations . . . but also to fully recognize and own some of the challenges that we have as a community, because quite frankly, much of the deaths of African-American males don't come at the hand of uniformed police officers but at the hands of other African-American males in the community."

In the spirit of sharing hard truths, let me share one.

Philly often feels like one of the most and least racist places I've ever experienced. The amount of racist stuff I hear on a daily basis -just in my voicemail alone - is exhausting. And that's nothing compared to the disgusting vitriol spewed against people of color who appear in the pages of this paper.

And yet, here were all these white cops busting their butts to save a missing young black woman recently. Here was a white detective promising a black mother that he would bring her daughter home. Here was a diverse city rooting for a happy ending.

The point being, Philadelphia - and its many issues of race and racism and inequality - is not black and white.

It's complicated and messy and depressing (Think Philadelphia magazine's "Being White in Philly.")

It's also inspiring, and something we should talk - really talk - about as often as we can instead of pretending the issues don't exist.

The fact is we already "talk" about them all the time, said Byrd.

"We are already and frequently talking about 'Race in Philadelphia' whether surreptitiously in code or rather cockily when angry, intoxicated or both," he said.

And how's that working for us?

Bottom line, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by changing the tenor and tone of the conversation.

So, sign up for one of the conversations, and let's talk.

Phone: 215-854-5943

" @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas