FROM: Genethia H. Hayes, Lucky Altman and Corey Madden. Hayes, 50, is assistant executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Los Angeles and director of its Project Ahead. Altman, 53, is a Catholic lay worker who coordinates adult human relations programs for the National Conference in Los Angeles. Madden, 34, is associate producing director at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles who is producing "Bandido!" a new play by Luis Valdez, and has previously produced, among others, a work by Culture Clash, a Latino comedy group, and Anna Deavere Smith's "Twilight: Los Angeles 1992," about the Los Angeles riots.
Hayes disputes the pervasive idea that relations between people of different races are a problem. Rather, she argues that they represent an opportunity for human development.
She proposes that Angelenos should take responsibility for their own attitudes. They should question stereotypes and stop blaming other people for their problems. She says these are the steps toward true freedom, which can be terrifying but ultimately very rewarding.
Hayes says her proposal, which applies to people of all races, starts with self-examination and reflection. She suggests people get to the root of their prejudices by figuring out where their images of different races comes from. If they see news photographs of criminal suspects, for example, does that mean that all people of that race are potential criminals?
"And if you are a minority and you decide that all policeman are like the ones who beat Rodney King, and then that all white people are nefarious and that there is a conspiracy to keep black people down and out, then I think you are a loser too," Hayes says.
Once people refuse to be limited by prejudice, Hayes says, they can give other people the dignity they deserve. One group of people would not be expected to fit in to another's cultural mold. This would allow a sort of racial and ethnic detente.
Altman sees a the biggest problem in human relations as a lack of honest interaction, which comes from people's inability to listen beyond their own racial and cultural framework and their tendency to rush to judgment.
She proposes that people cultivate relationships in which they have honest relationships with people who are different than they are.
As a practical first step, Altman suggests that people take a sheet of paper and write down the name of the group that they are most uncomfortable with. Then, without censoring themselves, they should write the words that come to mind. Next, figure out the source of the images: media, family, work interaction. Families can do this exercise together, then decide if this is a group they want to learn more about.
Madden says Angelenos should try to defeat the isolating aspects of this city. She says they should put themselves "in the way of an experience."
Madden believes that people must build understanding, not assume that it will come automatically. Attending a new concert, joining a community group or a church are just some ways that people might start building understanding with each other.
"Living is a struggle," she says. "The fact that we are struggling with each other is probably a sign of life and not defeat."
She mentions how, during a disaster, people tend to work together regardless of the color of the skin or the language they speak because they recognize their common needs. The same might be translated to everyday life.
The keys to these ideas are individual initiative and making people understand why such efforts are in their best interests. These steps can be taken at no public cost and, in theory at least, can show results immediately.
But progress is hard to measure. Education--through the media, in schools, on the job--is essential, and so is creativity. But there must be a commitment by the community to take the necessary steps. Elected officials and community, religious and business leaders mus provide leadership.