DOTHAN - Not all problems have easy solutions.
The panelists at Saturday's "Dialogue on Race Relations" in Troy University's Sony Hall auditorium made one thing clear, though - having a conversation is the first step.
Five diverse panelists fielded questions involving race relations during the panel, which drew a crowd of dozens to the Dothan Campus.
Topics included law enforcement, education and institutional racism, among others.
Local minister Raymond Ramsey said a racial divide can be seen in churches throughout the Wiregrass, and the first step toward solving it and other issues is to openly discuss them.
He related a story in which, upon visiting a predominantly white church, he was asked to sit next to another African-American. He said it wasn't done out of maliciousness, but rather ignorance, the same ignorance he often sees in predominantly black churches when white people attend.
"I think the first thing we can do is to be intelligent," Ramsey said. "We are a nation of intelligent people who sometimes act stupid. We sometimes ignore things that are obvious. Let's go back to a time when we were children and were not racist. When we loved everybody. We have to intentionally connect with people who are different from us."
Dothan City Schools Superintendent Dr. Charles Ledbetter, another panelist, addressed race issues in schools.
"There's not a single factor, it's a multi-factor thing," Ledbetter said. "Whatever's in our community comes into our schools. Intertwined with all this is poverty. Not only is race an issue, but a bigger factor than that is poverty. There's not a silver bullet that will fix everything. We need to look at a multi-pronged approached. We're working hard to build relationships with families."
Local radio personality Marcus Kage, who moved to Dothan from Miami in 1992, said the area does have some race-related problems, but is much better than other areas of the nation.
"This is a place I feel comfortable raising my children," said Kage, who said he was in Miami when riots took place in the 1980s. "Growing up in Miami, I have seen a lot of things that shouldn't have been seen. I don't see that here. Are there things that could be better? Yes, things could be better. But mostly it's good."
Kage did say he'd like to see police walking beats instead of driving through neighborhoods.
"There is a lot of patrolling going on in the area, and it's making (officers) untouchables," he said. "It's not because they want to be untouchables, but it gives people a mind frame that the police are not going to be bothered and shouldn't be bothered. Back in the day, you had Officer Smith walking the beat, and he knew who lived where, knew the children, the parents and the next door neighbors."
Dothan Police Chief Steve Parrish, who was also part of the panel, agreed with Kage and said steps are being taken to increase bicycle patrols and interact more with the community.
Local attorney Kristy Kirkland was also part of the panel, discussing some of the issues facing illegal immigrants.
The panel also helped one of its organizers, Dr. Jeneve Brooks, with ongoing research she's conducting about the state of race relations in the community.
"At the institutional level, I am interested in people's perceptions of how race plays out in our various local institutions, but I also ask people to generate specific ideas about how to improve race relations in our area," said Brooks, an assistant professor of sociology at TROY. "The Dialogue on Race Relations helps this research, because after the main panel discussion and Q&A, all participants are invited to sit in on separate mixed-race discussion groups for the purpose of this project."
The event was co-sponsored by TROY and the Dothan Community Relations Group.
"Troy University, as an academic institution committed to civil, constructive and transparent dialogue, provides the much-needed common ground for which various groups can come together to discuss issues of concern," Brooks said.