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Democrat Photo by Andy Simek

CHILDREN AT THE Woodland Townhouse community picnic didn’t have any trouble getting along with one another, despite the tense atmosphere some of the adults had created in months past.

Woodland Attempts
To Bridge Divide

By Andy Simek
LOCH SHELDRAKE — August 1, 2006 – When dealing with issues of racism, plausible solutions to the problem are not always in plain black and white.
If one is driving through Loch Sheldrake, they might notice a community by the name of Woodland Townhouse, an “equal opportunity housing” development.
This low-key and unassuming housing community has gained notoriety in the last few months, however, by residents who feel that some are more equal than others.
When a few white families moved into the mostly black community, racial tensions rose to the boiling point.
Words were exchanged, people were offended and physical altercations followed. The police became involved as well as the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Fingers were pointed and accusations were made.
After the melee, community leaders came out of their shelters, sun-blinded and shell-shocked, to attempt to fix what was obviously broken.
The first course of action to rebuild and reunite the polarized community took place this past Saturday afternoon.
Adults in the community, along with members of the HRC and the Fallsburg Police Department, got together to start building an ethnically unified partnership among the youth of the development by holding a barbecue and picnic.
The people who organized the barbecue said that it was the parents who infect the children’s minds with ideas of racism, and by showing these kids differently, they will grow up to be more responsible and accepting adults.
At the event, mother Debbie Gates saw a bright future for the community.
“The kids are getting along great,” she observed.
“It’s the parents that need this, not the kids, really.”
Maryann Hilliard, one of the community organizers of the picnic, said that they’re “going to start with the children” and then hopefully move on to the parents.
She added, “And it’s going to get better day by day.”
The kids were indeed playing together very nicely, and had even made up rules for the community, which included no name-calling or fighting and, in summation, asked everyone to ignore the issue of race altogether.
Forgetting their differences was easy for the kids, especially since there were only about five or six kids out of the approximate 45 in attendance who would be considered “different” from the rest.
Despite the relatively low levels of racial diversity at the barbecue, many people seemed nonplussed and hopeful for the future.
The community’s past beheld a good deal of nastiness and tension, of which a public meeting was held to bring everything out into the open.
The forum was held to improve conditions in the development and end the racial and ethnic slurs; the results of this meeting are inconclusive, as there was no consensus at the barbecue as to whether things have improved or not.
Carol Armstrong, another resident of the community, said, “Since the meeting, things have really gotten better.”
Gates agreed with Armstrong, as did Hilliard.
A passerby at the barbecue, Christina Bennizzi, seemed a little more dubious.
With a doubtful tone in her voice, Bennizzi said quietly, “It’s gotten better a little bit.”
It seems that she truly wanted to say that things were improving but felt deep down that they were not.
Keith Sullivan showed no doubt at all when he said that there has not been much change since the meeting took place.
Both Sullivan and his friend, Howard Sanders, believed that things haven’t changed but were hopeful that the barbecue would change some people’s minds.
When asked who was still causing problems in the community, both Sullivan and Sanders didn’t know where the source of the conflicts were.
Whoever these people are, and wherever they came from, they weren’t represented at the barbecue.
Whether they chose to ignore the festivities due to hate or to sympathy is up for debate.
The community itself seems unsure of what has been occurring as far as improvements, but official numbers show a slight improvement.
Detective Sergeant Simmie Williams of the Fallsburg Police Department said of the complaints that the police have been getting less calls from the community, and no violence has broken out since the public meeting.
Looking towards the future, he said that another meeting is planned for some time after Labor Day to check up on what the issues are, if any, and to inform some new residents to the community of what is expected of them.
Whether or not things have improved doesn’t seem to be the big issue on people’s minds. The day’s festivities were centered around ideas of strength through unity, looking ahead to the better days that everyone was sure would be coming and simply looking at the bigger picture.
Rantonna Williams, who didn’t attend the barbecue because he was busy fixing his car, said that “almost everyone in this community has the same problems. I go to sleep worrying about money, and I wake up worrying about money.
“It’s foolish to dwell on race.”

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