An African-American pastor, Rev. J. H. Flakes, Jr. of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church, invited Rev. Charles Roper of St. Thomas Episcopal Church to join him in developing a City-wide Unity Service, and from that invitation grew what we now know as One Columbus. Rev. Flakes extended the invitation in 1992. Rev. Roper replied, “Yes, I will help, but first I want to know you as my brother.”
The two men began eating together periodically and before long others were invited. Their goal was expanded. They decided to start building bridges across racial, economic, religious and social lines. These meetings, bringing together people of varied backgrounds, eventually evolved into the Valley Interaction Ministry.
Although from differing backgrounds, participants found some common ground through dialogue, communication, and association. Gathering around that common ground, they found they could reduce the hatred, suspicion, and distrust that had pervaded the South for hundreds of years. They felt themselves drawn together, with changed attitudes and a better understanding of one another.
From these humble but important beginnings has come a series of meetings, conferences, and events, and in 1999 a Race Relations Summit, from which One Columbus was born. Today, One Columbus stands as an example of the progress that has been achieved in this city and region. More importantly, One Columbus is serving as a vehicle to take the community forward in the pursuit of unity within the wonderful diversity of this community.
One Columbus, Inc. is now a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, tax-exempt corporation. And the organization has seen significant growth, its board bringing organizational stability, providing direction and leadership. The board has itself become involved in the Bridge Building experience, which is at the core of One Columbus’ goals and purposes. Successful ongoing One Columbus programs include Bridge Building activities such as twice-monthly Race Relations Breakfasts, the quarterly One Columbus Community Prayer Breakfast, Study Circles, and Discussion Groups in local neighborhoods, on college and university campuses, in corporate boardrooms, and other places all across the city.
One Columbus continues its mission to continue finding common ground around which all can gather to enhance and expand the goodwill that exists in the region. Where there are problems or challenges concerning race, advocacy will be pursued for mutual respect and improvement of race relations–communicating, conciliating, moderating, relating, uniting, building bridges of tolerance, understanding, acceptance, respect, compassion and love. The vision of One Columbus is a united community embracing all people and giving every citizen a way to participate meaningfully in the activities and decisions that comprise community life.