COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley hosted its 3rd annual Black History Panel Thursday afternoon.  

The panel discussion was held at the Columbus Civic Center where this years’ speakers addressed topics like health equity, racism and inclusion.

This year’s speakers included Realtor Norman Hardman, Dr. Asante Hilts from the Valley Healthcare System, Columbus Councilwoman Toyia Tucker, and Aflac Historian Oz Roberts.

Around 100 guests were in attendance including Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson. The panel was moderated by Ben Moser, the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley President and CEO.

Moser says events like this are essential to raising awareness on topics that are not necessarily easy to discuss. 

“Raising up those issues of awareness, you know, digging into some difficult issues to talk about and getting underneath the surface level conversations and getting to the core of what really matters in these conversations,” said Moser. “At the end of the day, it’s about providing more opportunity for people of color in our community here in the Chattahoochee Valley.”

The event highlighted the importance of starting a dialogue about the inequalities that African Americans and other minorities face daily and how awareness will empower the community to take positive steps forward. 

While society has made strides concerning diversity and inclusion, panelist and CEO of Valley Healthcare System, Dr. Asante Hilts argues there is still more to do in order to combat racism. 

“As a community, we are afraid to name the institution of racism because we want to feel like we have come a long way,” said Dr. Hilts. “We can’t deny that we have come a long way, but we can’t ignore that we still have a ways to go. Unless we address it, unless we talk about some strategies and identify the challenges, then we won’t make much progress.”

Some of the other topics discussed include disparities in the housing market, racial discrimination, racial bias, and certain legislation that can help combat racism.

The CROWN Act stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. It is a law that prohibits race-based hair discrimination, which is the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locs, twists or bantu knots.

Dr. Hilts says it’s more important than ever to address racism, not as an individual, but as an institution.

“The main proposal that I’m making today is how can we address racism,” said Dr. Hilts. “Not as a person, one person being racist, but racism as an institution. How has that impacted us from a historical perspective with black history and how do we have that conversation about what are some solutions going forward to address that, to close some of the gaps that we still experience today?”

Guests were encouraged to ask questions towards the end of the conversation. United Way says the panel discussion will be available to view on their YouTube channel the week of Feb. 13.