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Forum spurs talk on racism

Collegiates share stories on racism

Carla St.Louis | 2/20/2014, 9 a.m.

“What is it about white folks that makes them feel in danger,” asked Reverend Dr. Jeffery Swain, director of Florida Memorial University's (FMU) Centers for Academic Support and Retention.

In the FIU/FMU Auditorium among a crowd of 50 Black collegiates, a seven-member panel including Swain discussed white America's narrative about Black men in the context of the slayings of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin.

The panelists addressed topics like the criminalization of Black men and the racist implications of Stand Your Ground.

They also talked about activism, how to perpetuate change and mentorship in an attempt to bridge the disconnect between the youth and elders.

Guests were also given the opportunity to participate in the conversation.

Held on February 17th, the town hall meeting included a forum by the Dream Defenders, an invocation led by chaplain Reverend Wendell Paris and hosted by the FMU Lions for Justice. It was moderated by FMU's assistant professor of U.S. history and African-American history, Dr. Tameka Hobbs.

The event titled, Jordan and Trayvon Where is the Justice?, acted as a safe place for students to discuss their encounters with racism. Students shared their outrage of the murders of two Black Florida youths who resembled themselves, brothers, boyfriends and friends.

"I've never been more afraid of a white person in my entire life — and I have white friends," said one attendee as he recounted being pulled over and questioned by a white police officer. "He gave me a ticket for over $300 for speeding in a school zone" despite not actually speeding and described the entire incident as "walking on pins and needles." Although the police officer never touched him, in the context of the recent white on Black murders that have occurred in Florida, he said, “I now look at white men of a certain age differently in fear of what they might do.”

Sherika Shaw, the South Florida Regional Organizer of the Dream Defenders understands his fear.

"My blackness does not make me a threat to society," said Shaw. "Stand Your Ground’s underlying message is Black men are criminals. The overall narrative [in America] is [Blacks] are criminals. We are basically being punished for walking while Black.”

Panelists discussed the outcome of the first degree murder trial of Michael Dunn, the white man who killed Davis.

“The verdict is a disappointment because of the jury's failure to hold Dunn accountable for Jordan Davis's murder," said Hobbs. "The parallels, however, between the Dunn case and the Zimmerman case illustrate the dangerous intersection of race, self-defense, and the interpretation in the criminal justice system. Our conversation tonight seeks to explore this connection and to work towards strategies to correct the situation. We cannot have another Trayvon or Jordan.”

"When I found out about the verdict, at first I was confused at why people were upset because I thought justice was served as long as he was found guilty," said Courtney D. Wright president of Lions for Justice. "But after [...] researching and seeing that although he was convicted of attempted murder, no one was charged with the crime of killing [...] Jordan Davis. This case, like the Zimmerman case, has really opened my eyes to the injustice that we, as a people, are receiving due to the Stand Your Ground Law."

Shaw along with her fellow Dream Defender, Steven J. Pargett pushed changing Blacks' narrative within America through an effective form of sharing within the Black community—oral communication.

"If we don’t change the narrative we will always be criminalized," said Shaw. "Young people must be on the forefront to change the overall narrative; we must share our stories."

The stories she's referring to are Blacks' experiences with racism and injustice.

"Young children growing up in this generation are fearful of Stand Your Ground, and they don't even know what it is," said Pargett. "All they know is Jordan and Trayvon died because of it and he looks like me. I'm telling you, it's going to get worse [...] We need to build power in our community to necessitate change."

Dr. Anthony Britt, an attorney-at-law and adjunct professor at FMU agreed with him. “We’ve got to change and demand better from ourselves,” he said.

The panel also included Dr. Flora Holmes, C. Vernon Martin and Dr. Kis-sha Sharp.

The discussion ended with a candlelight vigil and closing prayer.

For more information about the Dream Defenders log on to http://dreamdefenders.org.

For more information about similar events at FMU contact Hobbs at 305-626-3955.