Kanawha Community Dicusses Racial Issues

Race Forum, WVSU

Members of the Kanawha County Community gathered at West Virginia State University earlier this week to discuss race and the ongoing battle for equality.

Community members, officials and students took part in a discussion at West Virginia State looking at different racial issues effecting West Virginia and Kanawha County. The discussion was organized by students and the American Friends Service Committee. 

“Taking Action for Racial Equality” was a discussion focused on finding ways to reduce racial disparities in the state. It was part of a series of events that began last November at the Summit on Race Matters in West Virginia that drew nearly 200 people. Takeiya Smith is a West Virginia State student from Charleston who said it was important for students to lead the discussion. 

“It means a lot to me because I’m from here and we’re not talking about changing things in the entire world, we’re talking about changing things right here in West Virginia, Smith said. “It makes me feel really good, I’m 21 years old and I know I’m doing something that’s extremely significant that matters and it’s really fulfilling.”

The forum focused on ideas generated at a June meeting at the East End Family Resource Center. That meeting generated possible community solutions to racial inequality in voter engagement, criminal justice reforms and investments in affordable housing on Charleston’s West Side. Eight issue teams presented solutions and then participants had the opportunity to pick team they wanted to join in order to take action.

Race Forum, WVSU

Credit Clark Davis / WV Public Broadcasting
WV Public Broadcasting
Breakout groups discuss issues.

Smith said each discussion of race in the region is a step in the right direction. 

“Having a victory on one racial justice initiative is not going to eliminate racism all over the country or all over the world,” Smith said. “But that’s ok because we’ve taken one more step toward where we need to be and that’s equality.”

 Among those issues was reinvestment in Charleston’s West Side where Reverend Matthew Watts said they just need others in the region to believe in the community. 

“The West Side is arguably West Virginia’s most challenged community. If we were a separate municipality we would be the 9th largest city in West Virginia with over 18,000 people,” Smith said. “We have the highest concentration of African America people of anywhere in West Virginia. There are over 4,000 children in one neighborhood. So we’re trying to bring attention to the West Side and how it can be a model community and how it can be transformed from the inside out.”

Other issues discussed including the Second Chance Employment Act which would allow for the expungement of one non-violent felony five years after time served in order to allow the person to have a clean record. And issues like LGBTQ safety and equality on West Virginia State’s Campus. West Virginia State will host another meeting in January to track the progress of the various actions teams assembled during the event.