A virtual panel Friday discussed how to make New Hampshire a more welcoming place for people who are not white.
Rogers J. Johnson, president of the Seacoast Branch of the NAACP, noted that black people account for less than 2% of New Hampshire’s population, according to U.S. Census data. He and the four other panelists urged speaking up when another person says or does something racist.
Black Lives Matter Manchester co-founder Tyrell Whitted urged people to call out their friends’ prejudiced statements or behavior.
Sudi Lett, founder of the Bishop Elite youth program and Manchester High School Central’s varsity boys basketball coach, remembered what he called a “bad incident” of racism he experienced as a sixth-grader in Manchester. Would something have turned out differently if his white friends spoke up? He’s not sure, but Lett said he would have felt better if his white friends stood up for him.
“If you see it speak out against it,” Lett said. “It’s the same thing as wearing a mask.”
Johnson said the state’s businesses could work to bring a more diverse workforce to New Hampshire. He pointed out most black people in New Hampshire live in Hanover and Lebanon, the I-93 corridor and the Seacoast.
“That’s where the jobs are” Johnson said.
“We have to create an environment, a business environment for them to come here,” Johnson said. New Hampshire companies should actively recruit people of color from New England’s universities. “This is a good place to live,” he said. New Hampshire is safe, with good schools and plenty of recreational opportunities, Johnson said, and those factors are important for people of all backgrounds.
“If we make an effort to recruit those individuals, they will come here because those are good, decent jobs,” Johnson said.
Lett said he thinks it will take more than just jobs to make black people feel welcome in New Hampshire. Imagine a college graduate from Atlanta arriving in New Hampshire, he said, in a state of small towns and a different culture, trying to adjust to being one of a small minority of black people here.
Whitted said he hoped the businesses and cultural centers in New Hampshire would grow to reflect more diversity. He sees Irish bars, Italian restaurants — and few places that reflect black culture.
“We don’t have that many culturally diverse activities and entertainment things for people to do,” Whitted said.
Ahni Malachi, executive director of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, said she thought New Hampshire was doing pretty well for diverse businesses, considering how few people of color there are in the state. Not everyone can or wants to start a restaurant.
Panelists said they wanted to make sure police and teachers appreciate diversity. They said it was important for schools to teach the more difficult chapters of American history, and said they hoped more school districts and police departments would require cultural competence training.
Johnson said he has found some educators in New Hampshire skeptical that diversity and inclusion training applies to them. It is relevant for everyone, he said.
The New Hampshire State Police have made concerted efforts to reach out to New Hampshire’s immigrant and refugee communities, said State Police Major John Marasco. The state police have worked with the University of New Hampshire on how to recruit and retain women and people of color, and put together a public service announcement featuring a diverse state troopers.
In the long term, panelists said they hoped there would be more black teachers and police officers — both as role models for young people and to make sure people in positions of authority understand different experiences.
And all said they hoped New Hampshire would keep talking about racism after the protests die down.
“We should definitely work together to find a place of equilibrium and balance,” said Whitted.