Tom Wahlrab, a fellow and board member of the ISCT, and the former director of the Dayton Mediation Center, has lived his life according to relational values.  For the past 30-some years, he has focused his efforts on supporting transformation of the interactions among the people of Dayton, Ohio.  This is part 2 of 3 posts that contain the transcript of a commencement address that Tom delivered to the 2017 graduating class of Olney Friends School in Barnesville, OH.  
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I once went to a rally after the killing of a prominent black citizen by an off-duty police officer. This officer mistakenly saw a gun that turned out to be a tobacco pipe. I was the only white person present. After each speaker spoke, the intensity and movement within the crowd increased. As the last speaker left, people seemed agitated and I felt it was time for me to leave. I hadn’t walked very far when I heard, “Let’s kill him.” I turned to face three men. They asked me why I was there. Then I was hit in the face by the man in the middle.  Immediately the men on both sides of him grabbed his arms preventing him from further harming me. A woman immediately appeared at my side and said, “Let me help you get out of here. Where is your car?” She then took me by my arm and walked with me through the crowd. She put her head down to my window and asked if she could ride with me to the bridge, the bridge that separated the black and white sections of our town.
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I went to the rally because I wanted to respond as a concerned human being. I responded by facing the men. I don’t know that I had a choice to defend myself or not. I do believe that I chose to reach out to the men I thought were prepared to take my life. The outcome was that while one man was willing to act out his rage, his friends chose to act in another way. And, a woman at great risk to herself, acted as my protector. Those of us who have experienced humanity in such a way, I believe, must find a way to support this potential that we all possess as humans.

For some of you, I’m told, our recent presidential elections were difficult and worrisome. You have been living in Ohio these past four years – a state that gave its popular and electoral votes to our new president. As you invited the surrounding community to your graduation, you have inevitably invited people who supported the candidate you were opposed to.

Know that our debate with each other is not simple. None of us are either demons nor angels.

A few years ago, at a time when three states had passed very restrictive immigration laws, the city of Dayton invited the community to engage in conversations to see if we wanted to declare ourselves to be an immigrant- friendly city. Despite the assumption that a tsunami of negativity would descend on us, over a hundred-people self-selected and self-organized to write a statement that was endorsed by our elected officials. This community-led initiative was soon recognized by the White House and the National Chamber of Commerce, among others. Recently, Welcome Dayton, as our immigrant friendly initiative is called, became the first certified welcoming initiative in the country.

 For more of Tom’s speech, see parts I and III.

posted by Dan Simon

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