Presentation focuses on civil rights struggles in present-day Ohio

Though the Civil Rights Movement is decades past, racism hasn’t disappeared.

That was one of several messages shared yesterday during a presentation by G. Michael Payton, executive director of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

In his presentation, titled “Continuing Civil Rights Challenges in Ohio,” Payton used stories from his work as the state’s top investigative agency of mistreatment in employment, housing and credit, and even a noose, to explain his points.

Payton began by describing how his youth in the 1960s provided him with a fierce sense of urgency to promote equality.

He’s still working – his agency investigates an average of at least 5,000 discrimination charges each year.

That said, Payton told those in attendance that affirmative action is still necessary.

“There is a negative connotation that affirmative action is giving people something they don’t deserve,” he said.

Payton also described what he called the three dimensions of life – where we live, where we work and where we play.

Where a person lives correlates most with his net worth, he said.

According to Payton, an estimated $90 billion a year is lost by those who don’t have the financial ability to supervise their child’s academics, move to another school district or send them to college.

Then, Payton pulled out a rope tied in the shape of a noose and described how a noose was hung in a Columbus-area business.

Other, sometimes celebrated, symbols demeaning to minorities – such as the Confederate flag and the swastika – are also unnecessary, he said.

“If you’re German you don’t have to fly a swastika flag to celebrate your culture,” Payton said.

These symbols prove that racism is still alive, he said.

Racial profiling is also widespread, Payton said, and affects society more than some people may think.

“I’m not talking about thugs and drug dealers, I’m talking about innocent people who are pulled over because of their race,” Payton said.

Payton continued to describe situations where black teens were kicked out of Applebee’s who were accused of dining and dashing.

According to Payton, despite the teens offering to pay for their meals in advance of eating, they were refused service.

Situations like this are reminiscent to segregation in the United States’ past, he said.

“You still see things today which remind us of a time when we were on the back porch waiting to be served,” Payton said.

Payton also discussed current Ohio Civil Rights Commission cases.

Among the current cases waiting to go to trial is a lawsuit by 20 black families in Zanesville that didn’t have running water while every white family in the area had water.

Situations such as this show that without the involvement of everyone, other minorities could face similar issues, Payton said.

“Today it’s a black family, tomorrow it could be a Jewish family or a gay family,” he said.

Payton ended his speech by explaining his own definition of inclusion.

“Inclusion is not casting qualifications to the wind to have someone different on campus. It’s allowing people to have the experience of others cultures,” Payton said.

Some of the people in attendance believed the presentation delivered new information and reinforced their passion for equality.

This was true for alumnus Matt Boaz who said that while much has been attained through civil rights, there is much more which could be done.

“The struggle for everyone’s civil rights is still a struggle, but it’s still worth working for,” Boaz said.

Darlene Sweeny-Newbern, the Toledo regional director for the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, agreed that there is still a lot of work to do in creating an equal society.

She said Payton’s speech reminded attendees about regional concerns.

“It really raised the level of consciousness about what is going on in Ohio as well as America,” Sweeny-Newbern said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Equity and Diversity and the Office of the Executive Vice President.