Some longtime residents are staging Black lives matter sit-ins and marches as city officials debate legislation that would label racism a public health crisis.

Michelle Dudley relocated to Canal Winchester with her family a little more than 10 years ago, moving from her home in Olde Towne East to escape neighborhood violence and to provide her children with better educational opportunities. But while Dudley, who is Black, said that the overwhelmingly white suburban community has been generally welcoming of the family, her children have still been subjected to racist taunts on the sports field and occasional racist suspicion off of it.

“My son has a good friend who lives close to the golf courses in Canal Winchester, and they were walking over to the friend’s house, and the Community Watch here, which [runs through] the sheriff’s department, literally followed them,” Dudley said. “They waved to the officers, and said they were just walking home, but the Community Watch still followed them all the way to the house.

“So it’s definitely a mixture. It’s a great area to be in, but you also have to have all of these side conversations, and you accept a lot of unease. You trade the violence of the inner-city for discrimination and prejudice. And what’s really safer? Is it safer to be possibly in fistfights and everything that comes with living in the inner-city? Or do you come out here where your kids possibly still can’t walk down the street because someone might take them as a threat? And that’s something I’ve debated, especially with everything that’s happened here these last few months: Did I make the right decision coming out here to small town U.S.A.? And have my kids been subjected to more racism, more discrimination than they would have been had we just stayed in Columbus?”

The greater racial reckoning that swept through America following the late-May killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police hasn’t been limited to just its racially diverse cities, extending into majority white Ohio suburbs such as Bexley, Upper Arlington and Canal Winchester, and even deep into rural areas such as Coshocton. In Canal Winchester, this movement has materialized via a series of marches and rallies, the formation of anti-racist groups such as the Greater Canal Winchester Community Action (GCWCA) collective, of which Dudley is a co-founder; a weekly Black lives matter sit-in outside of David’s United Church of Christ, which took place every Friday from early July through late October; and recent discussion among city officials centered on adopting legislation that would label racism a public health crisis within the town, versions of which passed this year in Columbus, Upper Arlington and Canal Winchester-neighboring Lithopolis.

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