On the second floor of City Hall, in a humbly furnished conference room, Owensboro Human Relations Commission Executive Director Sylvia Coleman passionately conveys the urgent need for and significance of her organization in today’s society. The mission of the OHRC is to grant protection from discrimination to citizens of Owensboro and Daviess County related to employment, housing, accommodation, and finances because of age, disability, skin color, national origin, religion, etc. In her own words, Sylvia says that, “Human rights is everybody’s business.”
The Owensboro Human Relations Commission was founded in September 1972, in response to the Civil Rights Movement. A loosely organized group of white and black citizens met to form a race relations reconciliation group, which eventually organized as the OHRC. Originally located in the Elizabeth Munday Center, the OHRC now occupies a handful of rooms on the second floor of City Hall, overseen by Executive Director Sylvia Coleman. Since beginning her tenure as director in July 2013, Sylvia has been committed to the mission of the OHRC . She says that “as long as I live here, I owe it to myself, my son, and every child (black, white, biracial, of single parentage, etc.) to help them understand that they have a voice and they shouldn’t be afraid to speak.”
To accomplish this mission, the OHRC is currently working on a housing ordinance to establish a mutually beneficial set of laws to represent both the landlord and tenant. Also, the organization plans to revive the Fairness Ordinance from 2014, to allow equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Partnerships with community organizations, including social and religious groups, are crucial to promote awareness of the organization’s mission and to foster open-minded conversations about civil rights.
The ORHC hosted its annual banquet on October 20 and honored five individuals for their service to the Owensboro community and the mission of the OHRC:
- The R. L. McFarland Leadership Award went to Nick Brake, superintendent of Owensboro Public Schools, an individual who clearly advances the goals of the OHRC in his personal and professional life with his integrity, leadership, and goal of fairness in our community.
- The Humanitarian Award went to Houston Hogg, one of the first African American males to play basketball at the University of Kentucky during the height of the Civil Rights movement; Hogg maintained a positive relationship with the university in spite of the difficult political climate of the 1960s and a statue was recently erected in his honor in Lexington.
- The Emerging Leader Award went to Rick Searcy, executive director of the Neblett Center, who exhibits commitment to diversity and enrichment of our community through the creation of the first Youth Unity Festival, which promotes unity among all citizens of our county.
- The Diversity and Inclusion Star Award was a surprise honor presented to the Men’s Mass Community Choir (led by Larry Owen) for being such a socially, racially, religiously diverse group who generously donated thousands of dollars to the Neblett Center.
- The President’s Community Service Award, decided by the board of directors, went to Joanne Kendall, an unsung heroine who went above and beyond to serve the OHRC in her board secretarial duties.
In January 2017, to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the OHRC will show the documentary The Anatomy of Hate, and facilitate discussion at Brescia University.
If you are interested in increasing awareness about issues of discrimination and promoting authentic conversations and community partnerships, the Owensboro Human Relations Commission invites you to join with them as they labor to make the community of Owensboro a better place to live for every single person.