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Syracuse Columbus Circle Working Group set to Begin Shaping New Future for Controversial Monument

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A diverse group of nearly two dozen people will begin meeting later this month to make recommendations to Mayor Ben Walsh regarding the future of Columbus Circle.  Two members of the group share their perspectives and challenges the members must overcome.  

Father David McCallum brings a uniquely personal perspective to the conversation, which includes shared experiences of discrimination.  Italian Americans say the statue of Christopher Columbus represents their rise from oppression as immigrants, and indigenous peoples who say it stands for their own enslavement and persecution under Columbus.

“I appreciate and in fact hold a lot of these tensions between the various view that are being expressed, first of all because I’m half Sicilian and my ow Sicilian grandmother, when she arrived in the United States in 1902, experienced discrimination and bias.”

At the same time, he says as a Jesuit priest, there’s a complicated history with indigenous peoples.

“As I’ve come to know the Onondaga, I’ve been very moved by friendship most of all, but to see through their eyes and understand the experience of colonization and evangelization by the church from their perspective.  And I would say that’s radically shifted my point of view.”

McCallum says coming to terms with all of this wasn’t easy.  He says he had to let go of his attachments of seeing Jesuits in a heroic light, and feels some responsibility for the church’s history of forcing Christianity upon native peoples.  He says the group will be successful if others in group bring this same introspection, openness, and willingness to form relationships.

“Unless there is a sense of mutual trust and respect developed amongst the members of the group, it’s very difficult to achieve anything great that will be satisfying to the whole group and to those represented.”

McCallum, who’s also vice president of mission integration and development at Le Moyne College, hopes a decision isn’t made too abruptly, because it will undermine an ideal outcome for all involved.  History, of course, is central to the conversation, so the Onondaga Historical Association will be at the table.  Executive director Gregg Tripoli says he doesn’t see the OHA as a stakeholder.

 “I do think that we have a role to play to provide the substantiated historical perspective to cut through the unsubstantiated inflammatory rhetoric that may be fogging up some of the actual issues.”

Tripoli says in the debate over this statue and others, it’s important to remember that people of historical significance won’t be dismissed or forgotten.

“Columbus, for example; his place in history is pretty well established and has been for hundreds of years.  There’s no question from a historical perspective that he’s a game-changer, that he changed the world.”

But he says there’s a difference between having a place in history and honoring them.

“Once you know more about these particular individuals and their actual contribution to history - and we do learn more about these folks as time goes on - the question becomes whether that individual, that character, that event should be glorified in a statue.”

The mayor has said the status quo in Columbus Circle is not acceptable, and is looking to the group for recommendations to create an all-season education and learning site.