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H.B. Human Relations Task Force hosts forum on building community

Moderator Rhonda Bolton, top left, leads discussion during Thursday night's community summit.
(Matt Szabo)

While divisiveness seems to be building both nationally and locally, it was building community that was a focus of the first Huntington Beach community summit hosted on Zoom Thursday night.

The summit, put on by the Huntington Beach Human Relations Task Force, was free to attend. Moderator Rhonda Bolton led a nearly two-hour conversation that featured questions from the community and five guest panelists.

The guest panelists included Oak View neighborhood native Antonio Benitez, local actor and minister Daniel Bruce Kelly, retired Coast Community Colleges chancellor Ding-Jo Currie, Huntington Beach city archivist Kathie Schey and recent Huntington Beach High School graduate Matariya Rattanapan.

Spoken word artist Joandrea Reynolds dramatically read stories from those who responded to one of five questions. The first anonymous submission answered the question, “What connection, if any, do you see between what is happening in our nation and what is happening in our neighborhoods and communities?”

“Life has been hard being a person of color in Huntington Beach, but I’ve managed to find great friends and build a small community of support for me and my family,” Reynolds read.

“On occasions, we’ve had minor encounters with skinheads and some unpleasant interactions with unkind people. However, things changed for us dramatically in November of 2016, and I’ve felt like a stranger in my community ever since. Within the first two weeks of the 2017 inauguration, my family and I were individually and collectively targeted and called the N-word, more times than we have ever been in our entire lives. I’m concerned about the complete lack of empathy, care and kindness that seems to have become openly prevalent in our community because of politics... "

The panelists offered both larger scale and smaller suggestions for connecting with neighbors. One of the questions, posed by City Councilman Patrick Brenden, asked for tips on having more positive dialogue within the community.

“Yes, there’s a lot of hate out there, but we can start to model a different kind of behavior,” Currie said. “We can be intentional about a counternarrative. We will define what Huntington Beach’s identity is ... We cannot let a small number define who we are, and I really hope that starts with our leaders in the city, to model those kind of behaviors for our community.”

Participants were asked to consider five questions during the first online community summit Thursday night.
Participants were asked to consider five questions during the first online community summit Thursday night.
(Matt Szabo)

Four more sessions of the Huntington Beach community summit are scheduled. Relations between the community and law enforcement will be discussed on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, and representation in local government is the topic on Aug. 27 from 6 to 8 p.m.

High school students are invited to attend the forum about xenophobia and racism on Aug. 28 from 1 to 3 p.m., and the final meeting, about diversity and inclusion, will take place Aug. 29 from 10 a.m. to noon.

Preregistration is required at hbsummit.eventbrite.com.

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