Forest Hill Church holds conversations on race

One of the dinner groups with members of the original planning committee, Mark Chupp (far left) and Doris Allen (fourth from the right). Permission to use photo from Roger Heineman

It all started last fall when two teenagers were walking door-to-door to raise money for their high school football team. The teens were in their own Pepper Pike neighborhood, when police, with guns drawn, approached one of the teens. These two teens, both African American, and members of Forest Hill Church, were racially profiled in their own neighborhood.

A small group of church members rallied around the teens and their families, meeting with the mayor of Pepper Pike to seek an apology and peaceful resolution. The apology was never offered and the group returned home disheartened.

An important conversation ensued about race and racial issues within the diverse Forest Hill Church. Several members—Doris Allen, Mark Chupp, Ron Register, and Pastor John Lentz—volunteered to create a group to explore these topics further.

Since that disappointing meeting, 50 members of Forest Hill Church spent the summer trying to gain a better understanding of racial bias and inclusivity in the community. Led by trained professionals, Cassandra Washington, from the YWCA of Greater Cleveland, and Adele DiMarco Kious, an independent consultant to the Y, church members organized into dinner circles. Groups were intentionally organized to reflect the racial and age diversity of the congregation.

Trained members of the congregation facilitated three evenings with each dinner circle in members’ homes during the summer. They watched excerpts from the documentary "Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible." The dinner groups had their successes—new friendships formed and the conversations were substantive. Todd Webster, church member and one of the facilitators, said, "I am just happy that we have opened this door. We have developed a common language about race, and we have created a readiness and expectation for continued and deeper action."

The teen who had experienced that earlier confrontation with police last November said that these dinners and conversations gave him some closure. Church members who participated believe their summer experience deepened relationships that will move the congregation toward becoming truly inclusive.

Pastor John Lentz summed it up, saying, "Like anything of importance, it is not an accomplishment to be checked off, but rather a journey to continue." Forest Hill Church is committed to continuing the race conversation and hopes to organize a pilgrimage to Memphis to tour the Civil Rights Museum. Members also plan to start a club for the purpose of discussing books about racial issues. For more information, visit If you have a group that is interested in starting change within your organization, contact Cassandra Washington at

Vikki Nowak

Vikki Nowak is a resident of Cleveland Heights, a member of Forest Hill Church and strategic program director at Nottingham Spirk Design.

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Volume 4, Issue 11, Posted 11:07 AM, 11.01.2011