Human Rights take center stage at WVNCC forum

WHEELING — Area residents gathered at West Virginia Northern Community College Monday, to take part in a forum on human rights titled “Hers, His, Our Rights.”

The event was organized by the city of Wheeling’s Human Rights Commission and WVNCC.

Speakers during the event included Loma Nevels, co-chairwoman of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission; Elizabeth Hofreuter, head of school at Wheeling Country Day School; Lisa Allen, CEO of Ziegenfelder Corp. of Wheeling; and Robert Gaudio, assistant public defender for the Ohio County Public Defender Corp.

One of Hofreuter’s longtime friends, Wheeling native Natalie Bartner, outgoing president of Bayer North America, also participated. The forum was moderated by Steve Novotney, chairman of the Wheeling HRC.

Nevels talked about her experiences with racism from the perspective of a black woman. Hofreuter, Allen and Bartner talked about the #MeToo movement. Gaudio gave an overview of West Virginia law related to sex crimes.

Nevels said she was taught as a child to treat people equally and learned how to deal with racism in a calm, non-violent manner. For example, she said as a 13-year-old child in Texas, her mother once allowed her to go to the movies by herself. After she bought her ticket and began to enter the theater, a man yelled at her and called her a racist name and told her she had to sit in the balcony seats.

Nevels said she ignored the man and kept walking. The man confronted her face-to-face, telling her again. Nevels said she told the man that her ticket did not say “balcony” on it and she would sit below. She walked around him and took her seat. The man, to her surprise, did not follow her.

“He never came,” Nevels said. “I walked through the double doors and I sat in the last row on the first seat. Before the movie started I sat there and cried because of what he called me. But I was happy with myself, the way that I handled it. So I’m just saying, if we do the right thing by each other, right always wins.”

Hofreuter said she and her friend, Bartner, during their Saturday morning coffee talks, have learned to open up with each other about their work and lives, past and present. #MeToo, she added, was important before it was a movement.

“Women are stronger together than we are apart,” Hofreuter said.