GREENVILLE—Tony Taylor believes God played a huge role in his decision to come out of retirement three years ago and become the first African American ever to serve as a city police chief in Anderson County.
“A door opened for me in Williamston and I was there because God planted me there,” Taylor told a group of more than 50 attending a day-long discussion on race held recently at a restaurant in downtown Greenville.
Taylor was the featured speaker at the event sponsored by the diocesan Office of Ethnic Ministries and St. Anthony of Padua Church. The ecumenical program was put together primarily for young adults. Earlier programs were held for older age groups.
Taylor, who grew up in Williamston and still has family there, said moving back to the small town also played a role in his decision to seek the chief’s job.
“I feel strongly that a police force should reflect the community in which they serve,” he said to applause from his audience.
Williamston, a city of around 4,000 residents, currently has a 25-member police force, eight of which are African American. Taylor said it is the most diverse police force in the state.
He urged his audience, especially those in their late teens and early 20s, to get involved in the political process.
“You have to sit at the (government) table to get things,” Taylor said. “If you’ve never been at the table, you never have change.”
At the very least, he said, you have to vote.
“You are a fool if you don’t participate and find out what people who are running for office believe in.
“We shouldn’t have to wait for people to be gunned down and then march or whatever,” he continued. “We need to get involved in the political process from the ground floor and stop allowing public officials, whether Republican or Democrat, to dictate what they’re going to do. We need to be smarter and wiser.”
Leading up to Taylor’s remarks, the workshop participants engaged in a frank back-and-forth on the nation’s current racial divide that led with video clips from the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston and a school resource officer’s violent actions on a female student in a classroom at Spring Valley High School in Columbia.
Each participant was given a copy of “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015”, a pastoral letter by Bishop Edward K. Braxton, of Belleville, Ill., that reflects on the “new awareness” of racial conflict in the U.S. and his call to Christian dialogue.
Brie Merritt, 23, served as host for the workshop. She said the traditional depiction of religious art in the Catholic Church doesn’t reflect favorably on African Americans.
“It’s a form of conditioning as the way it’s always been,” Merritt said, adding that it creates a mindset that has filtered down to the way the races view law enforcement and the questionable response to perceived threats involving African Americans.
“What is it about us that makes some feel uncomfortable?” Merritt asked.
Richard Boisvert of Sumter said he started working in an all-black community more than 40 years ago.
“I made the decision to learn about the community,” Boisvert said. “If you don’t integrate, nothing is going to change.”
Boisvert, who is a parishioner at St. Anne and St. Jude in Sumter, joined others in cautioning against reliance on the various forms of media to guide their viewpoints.
“What people see on TV, they believe,” he said. “There’s a lot of ignorance in this country and the way to break that down is to talk and listen to one another.”
Taylor, who sat in on much of the dialogue prior to his remarks, encouraged the group to take their message further.
“As believers, whether Catholic, Protestant or whatever, we should be the ones who are leading the way,” a way forward, he said, that stretches back to the 1960s and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and beyond.
“If it’s not a heart change, it will never get done,” Taylor said.
Miscellany photo/Terry Cregar: Angela Clark responds to an issue raised during a discussion on the current racial divide in the U.S. More than 50 people attended a workshop on race relations held in Greenville recently.