Allow Brokenness, and Welcome Progress: A Perspective on the 2015 National Race Amity Conference

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2015 Medal of Honor recipients
2015 Medal of Honor recipients

“The elimination of poverty”. “A major shift in demographics in the US”. “Increased voter participation and civic engagement among youth in the US”. “Major progress in the Black Lives matter movement”. Although at first each of these visions for the future may seem vastly different, they all do have something significant in common: they were contributed by unique and ambitious leaders in the fight for social justice.

At the 5th annual National Center for Race Amity Conference in Quincy, Massachusetts, we all became participants in the fight for social justice. Whether this was our first step in the fight, one of many, or part of a longtime legacy, we were welcome to share ideas and hear what others had to say. A common thread was the powerful voices of leaders both novice and seasoned, white and black, of American descent and of an international background. Each and every voice represented had a story to tell, one of struggle whether it was personal or on behalf of others, or whether it was yesterday or decades ago. The beauty of it was that people from all walks of life could come together in the spirit of race amity to discuss so many of the issues that many of us grapple with on a daily basis, all of us are affected by, but few of us find the opportunities to talk about openly.

“At the 5th annual National Center for Race Amity Conference in Quincy, Massachusetts, we all became participants in the fight for social justice.”

Audie Cornish, featured speaker at conference and host of All Things Considered (NPR)
Audie Cornish, featured speaker at conference and host of All Things Considered (NPR)

Race Amity, also known as “the other tradition” is the notion that there is a tradition of friendship and partnership between races throughout history that has occurred parallel to the tradition of inherent racism and prejudice that is part of many of the institutions that we deal with on a daily basis. At the conference, led by Dr. William “Smitty” Smith, we focused on “the impact of media and education on the other tradition”, hearing from experts across sectors, including government, non-profit, and private.

We were empowered and motivated to think deeply and critically, and explore the places that can be painful and difficult to experience, but are so important in our journey as individuals and as a society. We were challenged to step out of our comfort zones and work alongside people that we in many cases would not have the opportunity to interact with on a regular basis. We were shaken, knowing that there is so much hurt in the world and so much work to do. But most of all, we were determined to make a difference in the ways we can in our daily lives and in new commitments that many of us chose to take on following this weekend of life-changing dialogue. From panel discussions and movie screenings, to musical and theater performances, and breakout sessions and award ceremonies, we learned about each other and also about ourselves.

Dr. William “Smitty” Smith (Founding Director of National Center for Race Amity and Special Assistant to President Jackie Jenkins Scott), Dr. Adrian Haugabrook (Vice President for Student Success and Engagement, Wheelock College), and Liz Cheng, (General Manager for Television, WGBH) at the conference’s Medal of Honor award ceremony.
Dr. William “Smitty” Smith (Founding Director of National Center for Race Amity and Special Assistant to President Jackie Jenkins Scott), Dr. Adrian Haugabrook (Vice President for Student Success and Engagement, Wheelock College), and Liz Cheng, (General Manager for Television, WGBH) at the conference’s Medal of Honor award ceremony.

For me, the conference was both reassuring and transformative. I was encouraged, along with colleagues to “make responsible choices” in regards to the media sources from which I get information. I was reminded that although so many of the problems in the world are complex and multi-faceted, at the core of the human experience is the desire to belong, to be valued and loved. If only everyone could feel that they matter to someone or some noble cause, we would be a much more capable and peaceful society. Some words that spoke to me were “love and hate are close together—apathy is on the other end of the spectrum”. As Dwight Allen, an educational pioneer and champion, spoke these words, I was convinced that taking a stand, be it negative or positive is much less concerning than not taking one at all. Therefore, those who choose to do nothing in the face of adversity and injustice are part of the problem.

“If only everyone could feel that they matter to someone or some noble cause, we would be a much more capable and peaceful society.”

As I move forward with my work and look forward to another year of opportunity, I am excited to work toward the betterment of children and families. I am blessed to be at a place like Wheelock College where this is our daily mission. I encourage all of you to not be part of the problem, but to make a constant choice to take a stand, to make a difference, to seek out the challenges. Let us not soon forget the lessons that we embraced as a community. Congratulations and thank you to Smitty and the whole NCRA team for another stellar conference!

Conference attendees at bookstore
Conference attendees at bookstore

Stephanie MirekuStephanie Mireku is the Aspire Institute Operations Specialist. She is enthused to bring a passion for community service and languages to the Aspire Institute and to help affect social and educational change in communities across the state. Before joining Aspire, Stephanie worked for the Wheelock College Center for International Programs and Partnerships as an Intern for the Study of the United States Institute (SUSI) program. Stephanie completed her undergraduate education at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth where she studied English Writing, Communications and Rhetoric, and Spanish.

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