Committee's mission: End racism; Juneteenth forum tackles serious issues, surrounded by fun and food

·3 min read

Jun. 13—Among the jubilation of the Johnstown Juneteenth Celebration at Central Park, community leaders met on Monday under the shade of a tent to discuss how to end racism.

"We have a goal and the goal is to eliminate racism," local NAACP President Alan Cashaw said.

The group worked through various topics during the public forum, but focused on first identifying what prejudice is and then what steps can be taken to end it.

"Racism is a demon," the Rev. Sylvia King said. "It controls minds and behavior."

Sung Shik Chung, superintendent of Western Pa. Conference of The United Methodist Church, described the ideology as a sin. He said he knew this to be true because it "causes a lot of harm."

"Elimination is always a goal," Chung said.

The group agreed that racism and white supremacy are often not the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan but implicit bias and harmful, divisive behavior within a community.

As for eliminating this problem, the members said communication is a key.

'Get the perspective'

Karen Struble Myers, United Way of the Laurel Highlands president and CEO, said people must to willingly have uncomfortable conversations.

The group said that resisting conditioning and being willing to change perspectives are also important.

Participating church leaders added that messaging needs to extend past their individual congregations.

Chung said the committee needs to create spaces to have difficult dialogues as well.

Their next gathering will be in two months as a way to get to know each other better. They'll then meet every other month for the next year and in June 2023 report on their progress.

The formation of the committee grew out of the leaders' discussions following a 2020 shooting involving a Black Lives Matter protester in Bedford County, Cashaw said, and the realization that many faiths list ending racism among their platforms.

Bob Hixson, executive director of the Cambria County Assistance Office, attended the forum to hear the discussion.

"I kind of just wanted to listen in and get the perspective of the challenges of racism from this group," he said.

Other activities on Monday included Dragonfly Balloons creating fun animals and shapes for the children, a stilt walker, hula-hoop dancer and Motown-style music provided by the Palovations.

Two youngsters, Hayden and Michael Gochnour Jr., attended the event with their family.

There wasn't any specific activity they were interested in but the two said exploring the area was fun.

"I like it," Hayden said.

"It's good," Michael added.

The pair are looking forward to returning several other days during the week for the puppet show and movie on Wednesday and Smooth Sound Band on Friday.

Mentors from the Flood City Youth Academy brought roughly 80 children from the program in the afternoon to take part in the activities.

"They're enjoying themselves," mentor supervisor Chasity Ingram said.

Children of various ages roamed through the park carrying balloons, snacking on tasty treats and taking in the sights.

Ingram said the organization wanted to show both youngsters from Johnstown and those not from the area that there are activities to participate in locally.

They also wanted to "make sure we give back to the community."

One of the children, Jamiera Johnson, said she loved everything about the celebration.

She added that she likes attending the academy programs on Lincoln Street and was glad the organization brought her and her friends to the park.