The FMU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Student Government Association (SGA) cosponsored a panel discussion entitled “We Need to Talk: A Conversation on Justice and Equality.”
Alayah Hamlin, president of the FMU NAACP, explained that the purpose for the discussion was to provide students, faculty and the community an opportunity to express their concerns about inequality.
J. Hayes McLendon, SGA treasurer, introduced each panelist and the moderator and gave background into each panelist’s qualifications for being chosen for the discussion. The six panelists were: Judge Linward Edwards, Jr.; Dean Teresa Ramey; Breanna Robertson, former FMU NAACP president; Chief Donald Tarbell; Dr. Louis Venters; and James Woodall, president of the youth and college division of Georgia NAACP. Johnathon K. Greene, Jr., SGA president pro-tempore and member of FMU NAACP, moderated the panel.
During the course of the discussion, panelists answered questions from the moderator and the audience.
Edwards said that the best way to start difficult conversations was for people to agree to disagree. He said that people come from all different experiences in life, and they have to understand that they will not get everyone to agree. Robertson and Ramey agreed that a fundamental starting place for having these conversations is being prepared for them.
“Everyone isn’t always as aware of social injustice,” Woodall said. “You have to go where they are and move up with them.”
When discussing the reforms that panelists believed should take place on college campuses, Woodall stated that this is the same fight that people have been fighting for 50 or 60 years. “We have to get young people registered to vote, voting, running for offices and civically engaged,” Woodall said.
Ramey added that students have more power than they believe. They just have to prepare themselves and be able to speak on the issues at hand.
Tarbell and Edwards discussed the formal protocols for police to follow during routine traffic stops and incidents in which the suspect is considered dangerous. Edwards said there is always the tension between the officer’s right to safety and the civilian’s right to privacy and added that everything is going to be based on the individual details of a case.
The next question was how Americans can help African Americans and other minority children excel in their K-12 education. Venters first addressed this question by describing a South Carolina Supreme Court case, which claimed that money in the state was unevenly distributed to the detriment of rural areas. He said that the court decided that an injustice was being done, and each South Carolina student deserves an equal educational opportunity.
Venters said the state legislature is currently funding the state’s fight against the decision of this case. The state raised property taxes in rural areas to raise money for the areas’ schools. In turn, this has made businesses less likely to open in the rural areas, causing them to become even more rural and underfunded.
“African Americans labor under years worth of educational discrimination,” Venters said. “Every citizen needs to be invested.”
Woodall added that often the reason students are struggling starts at home. Because of other injustices, he said, the families are not or cannot be there to help some of these children with homework. Often, he said, the parents have to work multiple jobs to provide for their families.
Woodall also said that the children are not numbers and feels that at times, the government looks at them as numbers instead of as people. He said that in his personal experience, being labeled “at risk” is being told you cannot become anyone. He feels that we should use more positive labels instead.
One thing that Venters said he feels is at the core of discrimination is that people only look skin deep. He said that people can have conversations about politics and social injustices all day, but until white people begin to look at black children and think, “that’s my child,” nothing else can change.
Venters felt that this issue is a very spiritual one, citing a Martin Luther King, Jr. statement regarding the segregation of churches. Woodall agreed with him, adding that we need to start seeing souls and not just bodies.
Ramey, responding to a question about how college students can take action, said that it has to be done in groups and with preparedness. She felt that students have power.
“You don’t fight injustice by fighting injustice, you fight it by pursuing liberty,” Woodall said.
The event ended with a presentation of gifts to the panelists and moderator, remarks from the provost, Dr. Richard Chapman, and closing remarks from Terrick Boatright, vicepresident of FMU NAACP and Freddricka Pressley, vice president of SGA.