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Diverse group talks racial issues in Billings

Posted at 10:52 PM, Jun 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 00:52:33-04

BILLINGS — After the Justice for George Floyd Rally in downtown Billings on Sunday, community leaders came together Thursday night to discuss racial issues.

Nine people participated in the "Walk With Me From Racial Injustice and Prejudice to Unity" discussion at First Congregational Church in Billings.

The goal was to bring people with different viewpoints together for solutions.

"I need to be here," Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said at the gathering. "I will be here. It's necessary. My absence would've spoken volumes of anything that I may or may not say here tonight."

St. John talked about being part of the discussion, with law enforcement a focal point of protests around the country.

The event facilitator says it's about building bridges of communication to help see someone else's side.

He wanted people to honest and frank and called it a no-judgment zone.

"We needed to have the liberal end," said facilitator Jeffery Johnson, True North Strategic Consultants principal. "We needed to have the conservative end. We needed to have our police chief in there so he could let us know from his end. Anyone that we're talking about or they are the subject of our conversations, they need to be in that room in that conversation. We need not be talking about them. We need to be talking with them."

Jerry Clark, John Evanovich, Jason Harris, John Heenan, Rep. Jessica Karjala, D-Bllings, Gwen Kircher, Billings City Council Member Penny Ronning and Lukas Sealy joined St. John on the panel.

"These people are very courageous," said Johnson. "So many times, you hear the phrase 'we need to start the conversation, we need to start the conversation.' It's usually after something bad has happened. Tonight, they're starting that conversation and they're getting into it. And we're going to have a great result."

Johnson said he expects to hold two more sessions, with the goal of meaningful solutions to racial injustice, bias and prejudice.