Jeff Perkins On Launching The ‘Conversation On Race’

Jeff Perkins

Jeff Perkins

In 2008, Jeff Perkins started what is now an annual event in Decatur – called the Conversation on Race.

After years of working to overcome discrimination, he set out to create what he calls an honest conversation about race relations that leaves people – black and white -- feeling “constructively uncomfortable."

Perkins served for a time as the head of the NAACP in Decatur and went on to found the mentoring program called Caring Black Men of Decatur.

In an interview with WILL-TV's David Inge, Perkins talks about why he launched the Conversation on Race, and the changes he's seen in attitudes over the years.

You can watch the full interview Thursday night at 7:30 on WILL-TV.

Story source: WILL

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I grew up in a unique situation to begin with you know a product of a black father and white mother and I have seen things over the years and I’ve seen a difference in how people look at things because in the one nine hundred eighty three when I was born in the fifty’s it was I was an anomaly. Sometimes novelty an indicator you know and now I think whites have listened to African-Americans talk about prejudice and racism on the jobs in different places and some time is you know we just get tired of hearing that but now that I see more African-American children being raised by white grandparents I think come to a better understanding because now they’re face to face with some still some of the stigmas and stereotypes and discrimination and prejudices that African Americans have been talking about for a lot of years I think stop some time. God has a way to bring things full circle for them now that they have black grandchildren they have to stop and think about well you know maybe there’s something to what you know some has been saying all these years about the prejudice and discrimination that they that they face they’ve been they’ve been forced to face it through their through their grandchildren and it wasn’t like that for me but I think that’s that’s the growth that I’ve seen over the years.

Well tell me about what you were thinking about that led to this conversation on race which is now an annual event it’s been going on for a number of years and I believe it it’s sort of a joint effort involves Millikan involves that Richland Community College involves the schools.

When did you start thinking that would be OK because I always think that race matters I think it’s a topic that a lot of people again don’t really want to talk about and it’s a hot button issue topic and I just think I just thought for our community to be maybe a more progressive community to talk about some race you know race relations that we have in our community racial issues and be able to talk through them to maybe get charged some sort of understanding of one another and I think it does and it just makes us a better a better community.

Well and did that help to create an opportunity for people to talk with one another that ordinarily wouldn’t just because they they lived in more separate kind of world.

Yeah I did and I think from that maybe had some other dialogues away after the after the conversation on race during the rest of the year where people would have you know time to sit and talk with one another and again not everyone was really pleased with you know coming to the event itself and listening to it. They walked away maybe still kind of said but I thought so many times when you have racial forums and workshops or those type of things people come to the table and they sit look at one another but they never really say what needs to be said as with the conversational race with it. When I called a truthful dialogue I think some things were from the speakers and the other panelists things were said and some people still walked away a little upset but maybe they were walked away just uncomfortable positively uncomfortable.