Otterbein Joins with Westerville Community to Launch Racial Equity Organization

Posted Jan 20, 2021

Community members and organizations, including Otterbein University and other key stakeholders in the greater Westerville area, have come together to commit to doing the important work necessary to defeat racism in the community in response to the tragic events of police brutality in 2020. 

Along with incidents across the country, two recent police shootings of unarmed Black men in central Ohio have brought the focus on racism in policing closer to home.  

When Otterbein senior Desmond Fernandez organized his first Black Lives Matters march in Westerville on June 3, 2020, he expected about 50 people, but approximately 1,000 members of the greater Westerville community attended.  

This overwhelmingly positive response is just one indication that Westerville residents not only acknowledge that more must be done to eliminate racial inequities — they are determined to be drivers of change here at home.  

Over the past two decades, many initiatives, programs, and resources have focused on this work, originating from the City of Westerville, MLK Legacy Project, Otterbein, Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, Westerville City Schools, Westerville Public Library, and more.  

Now, a founding group that includes these community-leading institutions and others, is launching a new non-profit organization in the greater Westerville community to actively fight racism in the community. A 30-member “launch team” is overseeing the initial development of the organization, as well as hiring a community chief diversity officer. 

According to Otterbein President John Comerford, bringing all these groups together will benefit everyone. “Work for racial equity cannot happen in silos. There are lots of organizations like Otterbein doing important work, but we will be able to accomplish so much more together.”  

Otterbein community members involved in the creation of this new organization include: 

  • Jefferson Blackburn-Smith, vice president for enrollment management and marketing.  
  • John Comerford, Ph.D., president. 
  • Desmond Fernandez, student and community engagement organizer. 
  • James E. Prysock III, director of social justice and activism. 
  • Timothy Wotring, student. 

According to Carl Smallwood, co-director of the Divided Community Project at the Moritz College of Law, this effort has implications and support beyond the borders of Westerville.  

“Westerville’s initiative to reduce racism may become a model for other communities. It includes public officials, key stakeholder organizations, and community leaders; engages in both listening deeply to people within the community and engaging experts; and operates in a way that its success will be independently assessed so that other communities can learn from its example,” Smallwood said. 

Those interested in supporting this effort are encouraged to submit their contact information here: