Better schools, a more diverse police force and housing dominated discussions at the NAACP's race relations symposium last week, but panelist Jennifer Woods said "talk is cheap."

"I think this will be about the third or fourth panel discussion that I have attended. I'm tired of talking," she said, challenging the community to step up.

Woods, a retired educator, was one of the panelists participating in Monday's symposium moderated by executive board member Yusuf Hakeem at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

The panel included, among others, Beth Foster of Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center; the Rev. Kevin Wallace of Redemption Point Church; Mary Mancini, chairwoman of the Tennessee Democratic Party; and the Rev. Earnest L. Reid Jr. of Second Baptist Church.

And they came armed with statistics on racial disparities and social injustice and a passion for equality.

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As one panelist noted, the police force is 73 percent white men, but the city's population is nearly 40 percent black. Recent data provided by the Chattanooga Police Department shows the disparity: Out of more than 480 police officers, only 81 are black.

In November, Sgt. Joe Shaw, who is in charge of recruiting, said the department is weighing options to improve its diversity through various measures, including financial incentives, to attract more minority recruits.

Education and housing also dominated the conversation Monday.

Ken Chilton said for two years he's been offering statistics on racial disparities and how poverty impacts education. He, too, pushed the crowd to act fast.

"How do we go from where we are to where we want to be?" he asked.

One way to act is by providing more funding for programs like Baby University, said Walter Mickulick, a local psychologist. The city initiative launched by Mayor Andy Berke aims to help low-income parents and their children by providing prenatal care and early childhood training. He also said mothers need to be educated on developmental benchmarks they should see in their child.

But for one panelist, lack of access to home loans among blacks was startling.

First Tennessee Bank, the largest commercial lender in the Metropolitan Statistical Area, gave only one conventional home loan to a black family in four years, said panelist Jefferson Hodge of Chattanooga Organized for Action.

A report released in 2016 found Chattanooga banks award only a fraction of the home purchase loans they originate to black families, and black families' applications for home loans are rejected at a much higher rate than those of white and Hispanic families.

Dr. Elenora Woods, president of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County chapter of the NAACP, said the organization is taking actions on all of the concerns.

She plans to meet with the group's executive committee to finalize a letter of concerns before sending it to local banks, law enforcement, education officials, health care representatives and city and county officials, she said.

The letter will express concern none of the $125 million that the Hamilton County Commission allocated for building improvements and maintenance will be used to improve academic outcomes at low-performing inner-city schools.

It also will call for a more integrated police force and the removal of Confederate Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's bust from the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn. She said, so far, she has some 4,000 signatures supporting its removal.

"We want to have a conversation with elected officials and go public about our demands and hear them say what they can do to fix it," she said.

She said if nothing is done to address the organization's concerns, she will take legal action.

"If there's any violation of the Civil Rights Act and if there's no response, we may have to move on to litigation," she said.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.