Improving Race Relations

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Alcoa, Blount County (WVLT) - A march in honor of Dr. King's birthday took on special meaning today in Blount County.

It comes just months after an incident at a high school football game sparked concerns about racism.

"The Twin City Diversity Council" formed back in August in response to concerns about students bringing a stuffed raccoon to a Maryville/Alcoa football game, and yelling "get the coon".

Monday, the student group came together for the first time outside of the schools and as you'll see, its members admit there's still a long way to go in improving race relations.

Race relations have come a long way since the days of the civil rights movement but some remember the days of old when not everyone was treated equally.

"When you went to a restaurant you did not go in the front door. There was a little side door," says Geraldine Upton.

Martin Luther King's efforts helped break down those barriers but an incident at a Maryville football game this year brought up issues of race. That led to the formation of the Twin City Diversity Council who chose to kick off their efforts in racial reconciliation at the annual King Day march.

"Building tolerance in all kinds of areas and we think that remembering Martin Luther King's legacy is a great way to start that," says Maryville student Lucia Hulsether.

For the students at Alcoa and Maryville, racial barriers are not always physical but mental.

"I can say sometimes we might look at Maryville as a stuck up rich school or something like that and they may look at us as some school that's ghetto maybe," says Alcoa student Lester Parker IV.

But fighting perception and stereotypes can't be won with a march on Washington. These students have chosen to use a discussion of words to do that.

"It will benefit like our school and Alcoa's and help then like bridge the gap," says Maryville student Jordan Dabney.

These students know changing hearts and minds won't be done overnight.

"Get a better bond you know just a little at a time. Whatever helps from school to school," Dabney says.

And that's a lesson learned from the old school.

"We've got a lot of advantages that we didn't have then. We're not there yet. Still a lot of work that needs to be done," Upton says.

The Twin City Diversity Council officials plan next to start meeting a couple times each month, holding study circles to get more personal about the issues.

They also plan on hosting social events.

Down the road the group hopes to begin educational programs for younger children, teaching them the importance of diversity.