Becoming an Ally: The First Steps

By: 
Seth Kinker
Staff Writer

On Jun. 20, a public Facebook event titled, Becoming an Ally: The First Steps, was hosted at Bremenfest Park in by New Bremen alum Janelle Elking. 

“Join us for an opportunity to deepen your understanding about privilege, racial inequalities, and how to be an ally!” stated the opening line in the details of the event, which detailed a plan for an informational session followed by a march to bring awareness to the community while adhering to social distancing guidelines and wearing masks. 

“I teach in Dayton right now and I thought it was really imperative, especially with all the events going on right now,” said Elking, a 2014 graduate. “that we need to bring knowledge to our small communities that might not have been brought up with much diversity. Just giving people a safe space to learn about other people.” 

“I did hear a lot of negativity about protests and looting,” she added when asked about planning the event. “I wanted to make sure, especially in a small community that might not be used to doing things like protesting, I wanted to make sure there was a safe peaceful event that people felt comfortable coming to so that they could deepen their knowledge about inequities.”

“Coming from this community, not knowing much about inequities and then moving to Dayton, going to college and learning a lot more, I felt it was my job,” said Elking on holding the event. “It was imperative my small community knows about this and can also teach their kids about privilege and how we can be better as a community so we can help other people.” 

After Elking opened the event by welcoming the crowd of around 50, she dived right in with interactive activities among those seated at the tables with a slideshow of information.

Those activities included defining different words like racism, privilege, ally, and bias, as well as watching short videos on different topics like Juneteenth and systemic racism. 

Another activity had attendees discuss any hardships they had had in their lives, leading to a deeper discussion on white privilege and after that, the group went outside to the grass for another activity that put an emphasis on what different people had to go through. 

Elking had the crowd stand in a line and take a step forward if they never had to worry about whatever the statement she read was. Seeing those who did and didn’t have to take steps forward as the activity progressed showed the disparity of issues that Caucasian and African Americans may or may not have to go through. 

Slides also discussed Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter 

“There are three houses in a neighborhood,” said Elking in her presentation when talking about Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter. “The one in the middle is on fire. He obviously calls the fire department and says, ‘my house is on fire,’ and the other neighbor comes out and says, ‘well fire department, my house is really important too. We’re not saying your house isn’t important but if we spray water on your house, it’s just going to be wet. This is the house in danger, were saying all these houses are part of the neighborhood but this one is being overlooked. This one is on fire and needs assistance. We need to do more.” 

Finally, those in attendance were asked to write down a commitment card, a change that they were going to make in their life. 

One person in attendance was another New Bremen graduate, Tyler Regedanz from the class of 2011. 

Regedanz grew up in New Bremen with bi-racial cousins and told The Community Post he wanted to come out and support. 

“Just having to experience things with them, it made me mad but I never fully understood,” said Regedanz. “I didn’t even fully understand or grasp until I was 18 or until my early 20s, I got away with a lot of the things we did that they got in more trouble for because I was white. Granted most of the time I’ll be the first to admit, things were my idea. I was a mischievous kid. They were there for the ride. Unfortunately, they suffered the consequences for it."

“The injustices I’ve grown up with my whole life,” added Regedanz. “being as blind and ignorant as I was, the more I learned, the less I knew. It made me want to come out here and learn about things I might be missing. More of the politically correct answers, more of the articulate ways of saying things rather than just common street knowledge.”

After the presentations and activities, the group walked out of Bremenfest Park on the sidewalks with signs raised to passing cars. They then went along East Monroe Street before turning onto State Route 66 and heading back to the park. 

Honks and waves from cars passing by could be heard and seen as the peaceful walk ended without any issues on a hot summer day. 

“It feels really good,” said Elking when asked about her reaction to seeing the event come to fruition and the responses they got walking through New Bremen. “It feels like there’s is hopefully going to be some kind of movement or change. I know as an educator, it starts in schools and educating kids. So that’s my hope of this, it doesn’t matter if you’re five or 40, now that you have more knowledge you can move on and be a better person and make the world a more inclusive place. I think that super important.” 

“I’m really proud of Janelle and all the work she put into this,” said Aileen Ernst, a coworker of Elking’s who was in attendance with her daughter Charlie. “It’s a cause that’s all near and dear to our hears because it’s not about politics, it’s about human rights. Her passion for the work and bringing it to her community is amazing to see.” 

“I’m very proud to be able to come back from where I graduated and see growth from the perspective of this town I’ve had for so many years,” said Regedanz. “To see the growth, it was a beautiful thing, I loved coming here (today).