Community honors Martin Luther King Day with panel discussion on racism

During a panel discussion held at the Fort Scott Community College Monday, members of the community were able to hear comments from and ask questions of panelists who had each suffered from racism in different areas of life over the years.

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“One way to honor Martin Luther King is to have good, honest conversations,” moderator Jared Witt said, saying it is an especially crucial time to hold such discussions because of recent events inspired by racism.

Dr. Larry Seals of Mercy Hospital, FSCC basketball coach Michael Cook and Fort Scott High School graduate and military member Carol Bakke shared of times when they were called racial slurs or treated poorly because of their skin color or country they were raised in.

“A lot of times, when you talk about racism, people don’t want to be honest,” Seals said, saying that fact almost discouraged him from being a part of the panel. “Racism as a whole, it’s still in existence.”

Cook recalled a time when he was the only African-American coach in his conference and had to deal with other coaches mistreating or ignoring him. Bakke said her first year of school in the United States after returning from Mexico as a teenager was difficult as others called her names or assumed she was an illegal immigrant. While deployed overseas, however, Bakke said she was looked down on instead for being a woman and an American by those from other countries.

When asked how he thought people could move beyond racism, Seals said that is difficult for many people since they were raised with that mindset and judge people based solely on the color of their skin.

“If you can treat people with respect and dignity, you’ll find out they’re so much more,” Seals said, saying it is important for people to treat others the way they want to be treated.

Cook said he encourages his players to get to know each other and their different cultures so they can accept them, even if it is uncomfortable at times. Panelists also agreed it is important to begin teaching children in the home that racism is unacceptable.

USD 234 Superintendent Bob Beckham asked the panelists what they thought Martin Luther King would think if he saw the current state of the United States, and they readily agreed that they believed he would be pleased with what he saw.

“I think he would be happy with the progress we’ve made,” Seals said—pointing out achievements such as the acceptance of biracial marriages, the election of an African-American as president and a general decrease in violence—but adding there is still a long way to go.

Cook said he believed King would say that the holiday named after him is for all people, not just African-Americans, just as racism is not just a one-sided issue, but one that needs to be dealt with by all people.

“My heart’s heavy,” Witt said at the close of the panel discussion, saying he was saddened by some of the experiences the panelists shared and other tragedies that have happened around the country. “But I’m also inspired.”

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