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WNY leaders share insight on racism after 97 Rock DJ was fired for racist comments

2 On Your Side spoke with three community leaders in Western New York to have a broader conversation about racism.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — After a 97 Rock employee was fired and two others were suspended following racist comments made on-air Wednesday morning, broader conversations have been happening on how to combat racism in Western New York. 

2 On Your Side spoke with three community leaders in Western New York to gain some perspective.

When asked why the comments made Wednesday morning were hurtful, Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, and Mission Endowed Faculty Director Dr. Rolanda L. Ward P.H.D, said, "There are a couple of things happening here. I think one of the first things is that it devalues black women. It sets us along a scale of basing our worth according to our color. The other thing is that the DJ has a great deal of power and authority in our community.

"And so, if he is bringing up this issue around colorism, then that means that he's been educating erroneously. But he's educating his audience about issues of race that are not acceptable, so his power cannot be underestimated when we talk about this conversation being unacceptable in our community."

When asked what the difference between saying "I'm not racist" and being anti-racist is, National Federation for Just Communities of WNY President Rene Petties-Jones said, "Anti-racism is very proactive. It's rooted in activity. It's rooted in engaging in the activities to go against racism.

"In other words, by having these conversations and standing up and saying, 'Hey, this is not right, this is wrong,' that's anti-racist work. By saying, 'I'm not a racist,' that isn't anti-racist work. You have to be actively engaged in trying to educate and elevate, and understanding why there are racist roots to some of these things that are happening out there."

When asked what message he wants to send to the community, Pastor James Giles of Back to Basics Ministry said, "Community. This is the time where we should be loving each other, and we are still going through a challenge. I'm talking a challenge as a people, as a society, a pandemic, that does not care about race at all.

"We are all suffering, going through the same thing, and that's what exists in nature. When a disaster takes place, it does not factor in what color you are, what race you are, what religion you are. It doesn't factor in none of the demographics we think are important. It's a time for us to bind together, and band together in our unity, really emphasizing the importance of our commonness, commonality and, you know, when it comes to race, we are all a part of a human race."