Black Issues Summit 2019 Remarks

On Friday afternoon, the Elms community welcomed four esteemed speakers to campus for the second annual Black Issues Summit.

A Black Issues Summit at Elms College is important because (1) it fits with our mission and tradition, (2) because it is needed today more than ever, and (3) because of the rich academic opportunities that it offers us.

A Black Issues Summit is indeed consistent with our mission and tradition. The sisters who founded Elms College were observant of society around them and dedicated to respond to the needs of the day, the needs of their “dear neighbors.” The Elms family lives this charism through our core values — faith, community, justice, and excellence — in an effort to manifest positive change in our world. These are not just words. They are principles that guide us in everything we do.

A Black Issues Summit is also needed today more than ever. It is hard to escape the fact that the past two years have brought to the surface many unresolved issues in race relations in the United States. The option of ignoring the problem because talking about it makes us uncomfortable is really no longer a viable path. The alternative of pointing fingers, rallying in our physical or social media corners, is also not constructive. We can see what it has done to our society. Our role as an academic institution offers a more constructive path: It is to engage in objective, evidenced-based conversation. We can do what Elms College does best: lift one another up by educating one another and expanding each other’s horizon.

Finally a Black Issues Summit is important because of the rich academic landscape it invites us to explore. Let me spend a little bit more time on this topic.

The evolving but increasingly ubiquitous fields of Black studies, African-American studies, and African diaspora studies are truly critical nowadays to a well-rounded education. How important is that contribution? Consider this. The November 16, 2018, issue of the Chronicle Review sought to determine the New Canon, the new body of literature with which educated individuals should be familiar.

Five of the 20 publications listed therein related to the field of Black Studies:
* In “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Michelle Alexander explains how the war on drugs “disproportionately targets black communities.”
* Dorothy Roberts’ book “Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty” tackles the “American tensions between freedom and liberty, individual choice and collective governance.”
* The third book, “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement,” edited by Kemberle Crenshaw, influenced many of us in our understanding of how race distributes wealth and power.
* “Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship” is a book by Aimee Meredith Cox that challenges ‘”academic and popular assumptions about what civic engagement and democratic participation look like in the 21st century.
* Finally, in “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision,” a book that has been called a guide for activists, Barbara Ransby “charts the history of the 20th-century civil-rights movement” through Baker’s detailed biography.

The beauty of working at an institution of higher learning — in addition, at an institution of higher learning which aspires to unite neighbors with neighbors without distinction — is that we can have afternoons like the one we had on Friday, in which we pursue understanding and knowledge, in which we seek to apprehend, honor, and respect our respective experiences. Because before we can truly come together in any meaningful way, we must take the time to be mindful of each other’s perspectives, each other’s backgrounds and realities.

Harry E. Dumay, Ph.D., MBA
President of Elms College
Saturday, February 16, 2019