In 1955, the Williamsburg Independent School became the first school in the state of Kentucky to voluntarily desegregate, and on Monday evening, the Williamsburg City Council took a 21st Century version of that step by declaring itself as a “Welcoming City” to everyone no mater what their race, color, religion or sexual orientation is.
During Monday’s monthly meeting, the city council unanimously approved a proclamation to that effect.
Mayor Roddy Harrison emphasized that nothing has happened, which prompted this resolution.
“We welcome anybody and everybody. We don’t allow bullying. We don’t allow violence towards one another. I just feel like this is the perfect time for and a perfect thing to do,” Harrison said.
The proclamation was prompted by the urging by Williamsburg Police Department Victim’s Advocate Angelika Lewis-Bowling.
“Roddy has branded us that this is a city that you feel like home. That is perfect because a lot of times it could be the deciding factor on whether or not somebody plants roots here or puts a business here. We need that, but what happens when we get them here. How do these people know that they have chosen a community that doesn’t tolerate violence against our citizens?” Lewis-Bowling said.
Lewis-Bowling noted that in the last several years there have been some devastating events in our community that have affected everyone.
“We look back on those events and say, ‘Oh my gosh! If I could have done something or if I could have known, could I have changed the outcome of those tragedies,” Lewis-Bowling said. “I asked Roddy to sign this proclamation with the intent of becoming the second Green Dot Community in the state of Kentucky.”
Green Dot is a bystander intervention program, which started at the University of Kentucky to help address the issue of sexual assault on campus.
In 2009, a pilot project was started in conjunction with the Kentucky Sexual Assault Prevention Board, the founders of Green Dot, researchers at the University of Kentucky and the Center for Disease Control to create a high school version of Green Dot, which also addresses the topic of bullying.
Following a five-year study, at 26 high schools across the state of Kentucky, research showed that the program was able to reduce bullying in schools by 50 percent.
The Cumberland River Victim’s Services program teaches High School Green Dot at five high schools in the region currently, including: Clay County, Knox Central, Barbourville Independent, Lynn Camp and Jackson County.
“The high school Green Dot isn’t just bullying. We also talk about sexual assault and dating violence among high school students,” noted Dana Brown, a victim’s advocate for the Cumberland River Victim’s Services program.
Cecelia White, Victim’s Services Director at Cumberland River, noted that research shows the key is to reach 10 – 15 percent of the population.
“There are individual groups within that population. You may have city council members. You may have churches. You may have community groups, such as Kiwanis or the Lion’s Club or whatever else is in the community. If you reach somebody from each of those groups and you reach 10 percent of the population, then it is shown to have that impact because they take it back to the people they are leaders with,” White said.
Community Green Dot is similar to high school Green Dot, but it is done at a community level and aimed at adults.
Lewis-Bowling said she and officials with Cumberland River will also be approaching all the school system superintendents, Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus and Whitley County Judge-Executive Pat White Jr. to sign onto the effort.
“We want this to truly be a community wide effort for Whitley County as a whole to be involved in,” Lewis-Bowling said.
Lewis-Bowling, White and Brown became certified to teach Community Green Dot after completing a training program in December in Cleveland, Ohio.
The proclamation approved by the city council reads in part, “Whereas the city has never nor will ever stand for the abuse of its citizens at any time, whereas all citizens should continue to be accountable to one another to ensure that violence toward anyone is not tolerated, and whereas the city – with the motto ‘Feels Like Home’ – has been and will always be a city that welcomes all people, regardless of race, color, religion, or sexual orientation, henceforth, The City of Williamsburg is to be known and referred to as a Welcoming City.”