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(Photo by E.J. Greenblat)

PATRIOT FOR PEACE: Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand accepting her "Patriot for Peace" award at last Thursday's Coalition for Peace Action "Peace is Patriotic" gathering at Monument Park in front of Princeton Borough Hall. Looking on after presenting the award is Coalition Executive Director, The Rev. Robert Moore. Other area mayors recognized for their leadership in supporting the Mayors for Peace resolution were Princeton Borough Mayor Joseph O'Neill; Pam Mount of Lawrence Township; Shing-Fu Hseuh of West Windsor Township; Meryl L. Frank of Highland Park; and Douglas Palmer of Trenton.

Residents Find Ways to Improve Race Relations in the Community

Candace Braun

Residents gathered at the Princeton Public Library last week to discuss what different groups in the community are doing to improve race relations in Princeton.

The dialogue, which was hosted by the Princeton Human Services Commission (PHSC), is a follow-up to talks held in November and February with members of the community. The dialogues were initiated in response to racially motivated attacks that had taken place last fall, to discuss what the issues seem to be in the community, and to brainstorm ways to improve relations between the different minorities that live here.

PHSC Director Cynthia Mendez began the June 28 dialogue by emphasizing that "there is a strong commitment from both [municipalities] to improve race relations in the community."

She added that the Township is looking to start up a race relations mentoring program later this year, which would provide 30 mentors for youth in the Borough and Township.

Pamela Elmi, director of program development at the YWCA Princeton, reported that the organization held a "National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism" at the end of April at Princeton University. A panel discussion was held with community leaders from Princeton and Trenton, and children put on skits that addressed the race relations issues in the community.

"Out of that event came a lot of dialogue.... It really brought a lot of people together," said Ms. Elmi.

However, Ms. Elmi voiced concern that certain members of the community who should have come out were not present: "I would love to pull in people who don't think we have a problem or think it doesn't affect them."

Claire Jacobus, president of the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, reported that the library drew upwards of 1,000 people for its Human Rights Film Festival this spring, an event they hope to continue in the future.

She added that the library will have two events in 2006 that will celebration nationalities, including a celebration of the Chinese New Year, as well as a Black chorus sing-along and Negro spiritual talks during Black History Month.

"Our goal is to get people in the library that aren't normally here," said Ms. Jacobus.

Ms. Elmi added that this summer the YWCA will be bringing some minority groups into the library for certain events.

As a way to attract more minorities, one resident suggested having certain members of the community sponsor immigrants who would like to get a library card but are wary of giving out their personal information.

Ms. Jacobus said that the library is currently unable to do this because someone would have to be held responsible if library items were not returned. She added that the library will continue to look for a solution, however.

John Powell and Gene McCray, members of the Princeton Regional Board of Education's Minority Education Committee, said they went door-to-door prior to the school elections in April to encourage residents to vote for the second question, which would fund programs intended to help close the minority achievement gap in Princeton.

Both men focused on talking to residents who normally don't vote in the school elections, and informing them on why their votes are important.

"[The solicitation] made me aware of the black community in a way I hadn't been," said Mr. Powell. "I hope it was good for the second question; it was good for me, too."

Robert Olszewski, the youth pastor at Westerly Road Church, reported on several efforts the church has been making to involve different parts of the community in its congregation.

The church recently held a celebration ceremony for students in its ESL (English as a Second Language) program, which encouraged several students to continue their efforts to speak the English language more fluently. The church also recently started a prayer group at Princeton High School to "unite students in common prayer."

This summer, members of the church's youth group are making it their mission to connect to the Princeton community through an afternoon program for children following Vacation Bible School. The free program is designed to get youth in the church to work together on ministering to others and becoming mentors.

Other community initiatives have included the recent screening of the PBS program, Race: The Power of an Illusion, at Princeton University's Firestone Library, and a visit to certain minority communities by Ivonne Clark and Hendricks Davis to inform them about PHSC and the programs it offers.

While several initiatives have already been taken by the community, there are still other issues to address, such as ways to close the minority achievement gap, how to reach out to members of the Latino community who don't speak any English, and how to find summer and after-school programming for children of immigrants who refuse to sign any paperwork for fear of deportation.

PHSC will hold another community dialogue to discuss these issues, as well as others, on Tuesday, July 12, at 7 p.m., at the Princeton YWCA's Bramwell House. For more information, call (609) 688-2055.

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