The 5th Annual Race, Poverty and Social Justice Conference

Disa Woodland, Copy Desk Chief~

On Nov. 3-4, 2017, Lynchburg College in partnership with Many Voices One Community hosted the fifth annual Race, Poverty and Social Justice Conference. The event brought together members of the Lynchburg community to discuss the community concerns.

Conference chair and board president of Many Voices One Community, Leslie King said that  her mission was to “bring people from diverse backgrounds and ages together to engage in conversation, gain tools and education to positively affect change around issues related to racial and social justice.”

King noted that among the participants were students from Liberty University, Lynchburg College and Randolph College, along with one Lynchburg College Bonner Leader student who presented. “The planning committee took a more intentional approach to engage youth and young adults,” said King.

This year’s conference included pre-conference events on Friday that were open to the public and included a screening of the documentary “Talking Black in America.” The film addresses the controversy surrounding the decision by the Oakland Unified School Board to recognize Ebonics as part of their curriculum. Interviews with historians, linguists and educators form the background for “Talking Black in America.”  The film was produced and directed by Neal Hutcheson and Danica Cullinana and is executive produced by Walt Wolfram.

The screening was followed by a discussion panel on race, poverty and education with legal scholar Arelai Langhorne, astronaut Leland Melvin and moderator, Rophenia Crawley.

The conference continued on Saturday morning in  Sydnor Performance Hall with a musical performance by the Kuumba Dance Ensemble Inc. and a welcome from Aaron Smith, the diversity and inclusion officer at LC.

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Kuumba Dance Ensemble Incorporated performing in Sydnor Hall. Photo taken by Disa Woodland.

Following the welcome, the first session included talks on immigration, community activism, the origins and rise of white supremacy and “The persistence of poverty in Lynchburg.” The immigration discussion, presented by Rachel Thompson, dispelled myths about immigration and explained the arduous process of immigrating to the United States.

The second session included talks about dialectical diversity within the classroom, the school-to-prison pipeline, economic power in minority communities and the human rights of undocumented persons. The linguistics presentation challenged the audience to consider the perceptions about what is “correct grammar.”

Author and activist, Reverend Robert Lee IV, who is a descendant of Gen. Robert E. Lee, was the lunch speaker. He discussed racism as“America’s original sin” and invited the audience to use their privilege for good by “challenging policies and confronting leaders.”

Afternoon sessions included discussions on gentrification, music and resistance and privilege. The Conference concluded with an dialogue on diversity and the rise of white nationalism by Carolyn Gross and Charles Walton.

King hopes that the conference inspired community activists to realise that they are not alone in their quest for equity and social justice. She said, “collectively we can all make a difference.”

Contributions by Ghislaine Lewis.