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Selma forms biracial panel to address problems

SELMA (AP) — In a town made famous by years of strife between blacks and whites, a biracial commission has been formed to get the races to work together to tackle a number of problems, including improving schools, finding more jobs and providing better health care to citizens.

The creation of the Selma/Dallas Renaissance Commission was announced Tuesday by its six steering committee members, three whites and three blacks. The announcement was made in downtown Selma, several blocks from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where protesters seeking voting rights for blacks, were beaten by law enforcement officers in an infamous 1965 incident.

“We are trying something that’s never been tried before. We want to make the city and county excellent in every aspect of life,” said state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, an attorney and civil rights leader.

He said the commission would be made up of 21 different committees and would include not only people of different races, but also men and women and people of all age groups.

Sanders said in recent years Selma has often been divided between political leaders, who were mostly black, and business leaders, who were mostly white. He said hopefully the new commission will bring people together to talk, regardless of race, gender or age.

“Once you start communicating across all dividing lines, you find out what needs to be done,” Sanders said.

He said the new commission is patterned after the state’s Black Belt Action Committee, which has been working to improve the quality of life in Alabama’s poorest region, which includes Selma. Sanders is co-chair of the Black Belt commission.

Another steering committee member is Wayne Vardaman Sr., president of the Selma and Dallas County Centre for Commerce.

“The thing about it is if you can get people sitting down at a table and talking you can accomplish quite a lot,” Vardaman said. “This gives anyone who’s interested a voice at the table.”

One steering committee member, Margaret Hardy, said the city can’t move forward unless everybody is involved.

“We believe that all components of the community are truly connected to each other. We cannot move one component very far without moving the others. We want all areas of the community to move,” said Hardy, director of the Selma Industrial Relations Office.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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