Phenix City Mayor calls for unity at diversity conference

On the football field, Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe learned about the power of unity. He and his teammates came from different cultures and communities, but they all played as one team.

Lowe said the same strategy could be used to achieve economic equality in the Chattahoochee Valley.

“We still have issues because of the races of color and socio-economic classes of people,” he said, speaking to a group at Columbus State University. “And let me tell you something – it is wrong. Everyone brings something to the table.”

Lowe, Phenix City’s first African-American mayor, made his remarks Friday as keynote speaker on the last day of the second annual Diversity Conference at the Cunningham Center. He is a former University of Alabama linebacker who went on to play in the Canadian Football League.

Lowe said he played football for 24 years, starting at 8-years-old, and learned that the team is more important than the individual.

“You put all those differences aside, you don’t even think about it,” he said, describing the attitude of an athlete. “You learn to love each other for one common goal, and that’s to be No. 1.”

The conference was organized by CSU, the Mayor’s Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity and the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

Florence Wakoko-Studstill, a sociology professor at CSU, said the conference grew out of small group meetings organized by One Columbus. It is an effort to bring organizations together to address issues of race and poverty that plague the local community.

“We felt we have all these pockets of people who are willing to address those challenges,” she said. “So, why don’t we come together and synthesize our knowledge and develop a strategy for moving forward in bringing the entire Columbus community together?”

In the afternoon, participants had small group discussions on bridges families can use to transition out of poverty. Members of Circles in Columbus presented their program as a practical solution. It partners low-income families with community leaders from the middle- and upper-class for friendship and support.

Wakoko-Studstill said poverty is especially prevalent among minorities. She said improving race relations can help break down barriers that block upward mobility. “Sometimes the resources are there, but people don’t know they are there,” she said. “So we want to see if we can develop a mechanism for providing information sharing and helping provide initiatives to help people struggling to survive.”