Athens Community Members Hold First Black Summit

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Athens residents want to take action in order to make the region a more welcoming place for Black people after the city’s first Black Summit.

A screenshot of virtual Athens Black Summit attendees
A screenshot of virtual Athens Black Summit attendees. [Anna Azallion]
Community members met virtually Thursday evening for the summit, which had the theme of “Communicating and Creating a Community of Social Justice and Racial Equity.”

One of the ideas from the summit was to create an “Athens Green Book.” Green Books were widely used by Black people during segregation to know where it was safe to stay and eat while they were traveling, local keynote speaker Dr. jw Smith said.

Organizers of the summit said they plan to include things in the book like where people of color can get their hair done.

Dr. Carolyn Bailey Lewis, a member of the summit’s planning committee, understands what a Green Book can mean for the Black community. Her family’s business was in the original Green Book.

She said her great aunt started a hotel in West Virginia that became known for providing food and entertainment for African American visitors. She also traveled from West Virginia to Texas with her mother and used a Green Book to know where to eat and stay along the way.

Dr. jw Smith said the idea for the Black Summit idea was planted during one of Ohio University’s Black History Month events in 2020 called “Thriving While Black.”

“During the question and answer session, it became very evident that a lot of people in that room — about 60 or 70 of us — didn’t know a lot of  people in that room and didn’t know a lot of things going on in the community — the Black community.”

In his speech, “Four Keys to Creating a Community of Social Justice and Racial Equity,” he pointed out there were more professors of color at Ohio University and more people of color in Athens during the time when he first came to the city in the ’90s.

“The answer to a community of social justice and racial equity is in our hands,” Smith said.

Other speakers at the summit suggested actionable items to create such a community.

Nana Watson, the president of the Columbus chapter of the NAACP, encouraged those attending the summit to take an active role in local politics.

She spoke to attendees about how criminal justice, journalism and COVID-19 contribute to a culture of racial equity. And at the end of her presentation, she encouraged people to start an NAACP chapter in Athens.

Milena Miller spoke at the summit about the preservation of Mount Zion Baptist Church. She said they hope to create the Mount Zion Black Cultural Center.

Smith said he wanted people to walk away from the event energized and informed.

“I hope they walk away with knowing somebody or something they didn’t know about the Black community here in Athens. I hope they walk away from the event with knowing that Athens is really on a good track toward a good community of social justice and racial equity and how they can help to push it over the edge.

“And I hope they walk away with an idea of this is the start of the conversation.”

More than 100 people attended the three-hour event via Zoom.

Lewis said they hope to turn the Black Summit into a regular event three times year.


Anna Azallion is a student journalist working with WOUB’s Media Lab.