“We’ve got to stop talking at and over each other and talk to each other.”
“We all have to realize what privilege we bring to the table.”
“We are always going to have conflict. Conflict is natural, normal and neutral.”
“When we can’t have civil discourse, we have violence.”
The central messages from speakers at Wingate University’s Batte Center on Sunday afternoon were clear and unified, even as panelists brought their unique passions and perspectives to the conversation. The second installment of the Engaged Citizenship series, a public forum that doubled as a lyceum event, ignited and inspired students.
Carlton Collins, a 21-year-old sophomore majoring in pre-nursing, said the discussion was a great way to help people better understand problems that arise when we fail to use civility.
“Really, humanity is at stake here,” he said. “We keep doing hurtful things to one another. It’s time we started respecting one another instead of just talking about tolerance. True respect is much more open-hearted.”
Collins said the forum was a reminder to him of the importance of being willing to put himself in uncomfortable situations in order to grow.
Junior biology major Delicia Brockington, 21, was most impressed by speaker Toussaint Romain’s assertion that people should not be afraid to step out and stand up for something they believe in.
Jenai Davis, a human services major, was glad the conversation included talk about privilege.
“I come from a small town where I was one of three black kids that graduated together at our high school,” said Davis, 20. “Too often people don’t realize that they have privilege that is not afforded to minorities. Or they know it, but they want to ignore it.”
She said Romain had encouraged her and others to push forward with their quest to bring more black Greek organizations – specifically those known as the “Divine Nine” – to campus. Like many who attended Sunday’s event, Davis took the opportunity to speak to panelists one-on-one in the Batte Center rotunda, where the conversation continued for more than an hour after the forum ended.
N.C. House member Craig Horn was pleased to see the crowd of 250 or so gathered at the Batte. The Union County Republican legislator who sparked the development of the Engaged Citizenship Series said he wished the panel had had more time to dig deeper into the issues. Nonetheless, he called the forum a strong start to the “long journey of restoring civil discourse.”
Joining Horn on stage were Democrat Jeff Jackson, a North Carolina senator from Mecklenburg County; Geniece Crawford Monde, Wingate assistant professor of sociology; Romain, a public defender and self-described “problem solver”; and activist Suzanne Barakat, a Tar Heel native and Muslim thrust into the national spotlight two years ago when members of her family were murdered because of their faith.
Prompted by moderator Jeff Atkinson, the University’s assistant vice president for the Ballantyne campus, the five addressed the status of race relations and touched on issues ranging from Islamaphobia to gerrymandering. They discussed the political divide, the pros and cons of social media and whether there is hope for a better tomorrow.
Jackson, 34, told the crowd he expects the next generation to be a “benevolent wrecking ball,” tearing down the political machines he sees as presenting “total garbage and a lack of authenticity.”
Monde gave some historic background to recent protests, saying Charlotte – a model of progressive ideals during the Fusion Movement that followed the Civil War – is an example of the ebb and flow of race relations. She said that despite today’s state of affairs, she is encouraged in her classroom each day by the willingness of young people to push for change.
Hailed a hero for intervening between protestors and riot police in uptown Charlotte last fall, Romain took time to reframe what happened in the Queen City, asserting that the uprising was not about the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott but about the police department’s refusal to explain what happened – in essence, the city government’s failure to engage in civil discourse.
Horn said people should practice self-control and learn to use language to truly and accurately share their thoughts without creating disruption.
Barakat put an emphasis on the importance of “allyship,” challenging the audience to find ways, within their areas of expertise, to stand in solidarity with anyone being ostracized.
A San Francisco doctor, Barakat was making rounds when she found out about the death of her brother, his wife and his sister-in-law, who were gunned down in the couple’s Chapel Hill apartment. She was expected to share more of their story at a lyceum event Monday night.
The Engaged Citizenship Series is a quarterly event that kicked off late last year on the campus of Wingate University.
Feb. 13, 2017