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Bettering Race Relations, One Heart at a Time
By John Gaines  Oct 16, 1995

"FOR ALL THE INFORMED and alarmed debate over race these past weeks,  I think most of us already know the way to better race relations. It is a black man and a white man taking the time to get to know each other. It is a Hispanic girl and an Asian girl walking home from school together. It is in caring for enough people of different hues that we keep ourselves honest, free from the grip of stereotypes. And it comes one heart at a time, says Diane Bock, a mother of two who spends much of her free time looking for willing hearts. 

Three years ago last April, also a time when this country was galvanized by race, Bock was up late, nursing her newborn and watching newscasts of the uprising sparked by the Rodney King beating verdict. Burned into her memory that night was the image of a burly black store owner crying helplessly while his business went up in flames. The absurdity of the riots, of people shooting people they didn’t know, was enough to move Bock to act on that age-old prescription for bringing down the walls between races, What she produced, however, was more inspired than just a rainbow social club. 

This year, Bock began Community Cousins, a loosely structured program to help people of different ethnicities do nothing more demanding than get acquainted. To accomplish that, Bock matches families or singles with counterparts of other races, based on interests, locale and family make-up. The “Cousins” are encouraged to do things together now and then and Bock offers ideas, including a calendar of upcoming community events. But more than what they do, it’s the doing that counts. In addition, the Cousins are invited to Bock’s house for three or four parties a year. The next gathering is a pumpkin carving fest.

Bock attempts to forge natural links between participants, based on her relationships with her cousins. In her family, cousins share outgrown clothes as well as bountiful backyard fruit that no one family could consume. Or that big batch of a favorite recipe. She uses the concept in her matches, grouping families who, because of their children’s ages, might be in a position to help one another. The sharing isn’t a goal, but a mechanism to help establish friendships. So far, about fifty families and several singles are taking part. 

Bock says more than half of the matches have led to established relationships. One day, she’s like to see Community Cousins everywhere, as integral to our communities as, say, Meals-on-Wheels. It has been no simple matter finding volunteers for a long-running experiment such as this. Bock says that for every 100 people she talks to, only one will join, even though all say they like the idea. And yet, Bock offered this test to suggest how many of us might profit by broadening our circles of friends. Check the list of people you’re apt to send holiday greetings this year. See how mixed the list is. I did, and was surprised by how white my list looked. For information on Community Cousins, call 760-944-CUZZ."
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