LaGRANGE — As members of the Troup County community work to address the issue of racial divides, members of the community are being selected to become part of the race reconciliation effort organized by former lawmakers Carl Von Epps and Ricky Wolfe.
Two members of the community who have requested to be included in the race reconciliation discussion are local dentists Dr. Chuck Pitts and Dr. George Baker. The two own and operate Kid’s Zone Dentistry in LaGrange.
“We partnered together years ago because several different factors came together that just made sense,” said Pitts. “We never considered the fact that I’m white and George is black. That was never even discussed. Our partnership was a simple business decision.”
Both Pitts and Baker come from similar backgrounds. Both men graduated from LaGrange High School, both attended LaGrange College and majored in chemistry and both men also enrolled at the Medical College of Georgia.
The two became business partners after the 2008 economic recession. While many dentists were closing their doors or finding more empty seats in their office, Pitts reached out to Baker and the two saw a promising business opportunity in a partnership.
“I was taking Medicaid patients when I first started my practice, but I quit after a few years,” said Pitts. “George has always taken Medicaid patients. If you take Medicaid patients, that’s a lot like doing charity work because you’re not going to make much money at all off it.”
Since the two partnered, Kid’s Zone Dentistry has become a successful practice in LaGrange. The group serves children whose parents use Medicaid, as well as those whose parents have insurance.
Both Pitts and Baker believe their business is an example of how people of any race can work together for the common good of their community. They both agreed that there is a need for members of the community to come together to heal racial divides.
“I think the first thing people have to do to heal racial divides is that they have to talk to each other,” said Baker. “So much of the racial divide is because people won’t talk to each other. That has to happen.”
Kid’s Zone recently sponsored the Independence Day Fireworks Show at Pyne Road Park. The group also has various ways that it provides free education to patients and their parents on proper dental hygiene.
“When you open your practice up to be a Medicaid provider, you’ve done your good deed for your community,” said Baker. “A lot of these kids that are on Medicaid don’t always know that they’re supposed to floss every day, and the parents sometimes don’t know that eating high-sugar foods has an impact on their mouth.”
The two said that they both feel a sense of responsibility and duty about potentially being selected to be on the first board of race reconciliation discussions.
“I think that discussion between racial groups has been lacking in our community,” said Baker. “It’s kind of always been one group staying on their side of the line and the other group staying on their side of the line.”
The race reconciliation program is planned to operate in three different stages. For the first stage, they plan to select 160 members of the Troup County community who will begin an 18-month program aimed at educating participants on race reconciliation.
“I know both of them very well and their hearts are in the right place,” Wolfe said of the dentists. “They’re both highly respected in the community, and they have put together a very diverse dental practice.”
Wolfe said that if the community is supportive enough of the initiative, then 40 of the 160 members will be selected to move on to the second phase, which will focus on how to deal with racial issues in the community.
“I’m proud of the fact that – in the South – a black guy and a white guy can respect each other enough for who they are as people to work together for the common good of our community,” said Pitts. “We feel like that could be an example to a lot of people in our community.”
Donny Karr is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2154.