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Roanoke church promotes "Racial Reconciliation"

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - A Roanoke church says the increasing tension nationwide between minority communities and police has inspired members to take action. Organizers at Belmont Baptist Church hosted a panel discussion Sunday about race relations. Their goal is to fight a problem that dozens of communities across the country face.

Racial divisiveness is something the United States has struggled with since its inception, and the City of Roanoke is no different, but a newer phenomenon is the divisiveness between police and minority communities nationwide.

What the panel tried to show Sunday is that both of those issues are caused by the same problem: taking one person's actions and letting it represent an entire group of people.

"It was challenging." That's how David Sandoval described moving to Southwest Virginia in the early 90's, when he says Roanoke was a different place.

"It was still segregated in the sense that, yes you did have, even more so, there were some parts of the City that you wouldn't go to," said Sandoval.

Officers say some of those neighborhoods are still trying to shed that image today.

"When people speak of the Northwest community, they immediately gravitate towards violence, drugs, and gangs. Even though they're apparent, that is not the community that is Northwest. There are good people, good businesses, good folks," said Roanoke Police Captain Rick Morrison.

Roanoke Vice-Mayor Anita Price says that focus on the negative can often blind you to the wonderful aspects of a culture or community.

"I'm very proud to live in Northwest Roanoke. It is a beautiful community. My neighbors and I, all of us, we've thrived together," said Price.

But Sandoval says for many, making that mental adjustment is no easy task.

"These are things that have been taught for generations, and it's really difficult to be able to from one generation completely stop and reverse direction in how to view people, how to interact with people, so it's going to be difficult," said Sandoval.

At the panel discussion Sunday, Sandoval and others offered advice on how to make an effort, on a personal level, to create a more accepting and tolerant community.

"White, black, it doesn't matter. We allow certain people or certain acts to define a whole culture or whole ethnic group and that is wrong," said Morrison.

"Get to know someone who does not look like you. Have those conversations I heard so many times this morning. Have a meal together," said Price.

"Just reach out to someone and say hey, how are you? Can I buy you a cup of coffee? Just sit down and talk, I'd like to know your culture," said Sandoval.

Price says one of the important aspects of Sunday's discussion is that it is proactive, meaning she wants her city to address any existing hate or misunderstandings before they have the potential to erupt in any act of violence.