In his famous “I Have a Dream’’ speech, Martin Luther King Jr. said he envisioned a world where people would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Nearly 50 years later, we are still struggling with the same vision. While people of different races in this country are no longer legally separated by the color of their skin, in many cases we still section ourselves off in different neighborhoods, schools and even churches.
These divisions allow the misconceived ideas we have of one another to grow and flourish, as we look at each other primarily from a distance.
In its mission of “elevating the dialogue” in our communities, the South Florida Times recently began breaking down some of these barriers through a partnership with Florida International University. Through it, college students go into predominantly black Liberty City, observe what is happening, talk to people there, and produce Liberty City Link, a section of the newspaper and its website, SFLTimes.com.
Through this partnership, we work with mostly Hispanic students, some Anglo and only one African American (who just happens to be from Overtown, another predominantly black section of Miami).
Some of the students told their professor, Neil Reisner (a self-described “white Jewish guy,”) that they were afraid to venture into Liberty City, based primarily on its reputation for poverty and violence.
But as reporters, these young people have opened their own eyes to a world that is not nearly so one-sided. Like every other place on earth, the students have learned, Liberty City has its share of hope and despair, positive and negative.
One of the ways in which this partnership elevates the dialogue on race relations is that it exposes people who never would have dared to venture into this inner-city community, giving them an opportunity to talk to people who live there.
In so doing, they get a chance to find common ground with people who do not look, behave, speak, or necessarily believe as they do. They get a chance to confront a different perspective on life.
Consequently, people in Liberty City get a chance to do the same with the students, and the conversation – even if only on a small level and among a few people – is enhanced.
The small circle of people who come into contact with one another on both sides of the fence will no doubt carry these conversations into their homes, schools, churches and communities.
It is our belief that the next time negative stereotypes on both sides are portrayed in the media or by acquaintances, the students and members of the community with whom they interact will have another kind of story to tell, one they experienced firsthand.
It is our hope that people who read our unique stories about Liberty City life will have the same reaction, learning about people and places in the community that they may never have known existed, and about places they may want to visit for themselves.
Through this partnership, it is our belief that we are truly “elevating the dialogue.”
Bradley C. Bennett is the executive editor of the South Florida Times.