I am very excited about next Friday’s second edition of the Black Issues Summit at Elms College. There are two main reasons for my excitement.
First, with the increasing importance of African American and African Diaspora Studies, this is Elms College’s annual contribution to the conversation in Western Massachusetts about the most current research, thinking, practice, and activism on issues that affect African Americans. We invite our students and scholars as well as those from neighboring colleges and universities to participate in this afternoon of dialogue. For the second year in a row, the planning committee has lined up another impressive group of guest speakers for the summit.
The second reason for my excitement relates to the timeliness of this year’s summit. Last weekend, I was in Washington, D.C., for the Annual Meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). Leaders of Catholic institutions reflected, among other topics, on building truly inclusive campuses consistent with our calling to be a universal church. On Monday afternoon, in between sessions, I had the opportunity to visit the Museum of African American History, a monument that celebrates the struggles that African Americans have faced in the United States, as well as their tremendous contributions to this great country.
The next day, I was at home watching the State of the Union address. It was disappointing to me that the two African Americans prominently featured in the president’s speech were one individual whose prison sentence had been commuted and another who was released from prison under the First Step Act. Wittingly or unwittingly, the president’s examples contributed to reinforce the American public’s subliminal association of African Americans with crime, criminality, and the criminal justice system, instead of the great achievements celebrated in the Museum of African American History.
And so I am excited that the Black Issues Summit will offer an opportunity, at least for our campus and our region, to have a more scholarly and evidenced-based examination of African Americans in our society. I hope that you are able to join us next Friday, February 15, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. You can register at www.elms.edu/summit.
If you cannot attend, watch this space, as I will share my opening remarks after the event.