Over the past two days, dozens of people gathered in Charleston to have conversations organizers appropriately refer to as “racy.” The Summit on Race Matters in Appalachia pulled West Virginians from all areas, all backgrounds into the capital city to discuss how national racial tensions seen in places like Ferguson, Missouri, materialize right here at home.
The two day event included keynote speakers, the viewing of a documentary and breakout sessions that allowed participants to begin a dialogue on racial issues in their communities.
Dr. Gail Christopher, Vice President of Policy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, gave one of the keynotes focused on the history of racial inequities and how it’s shaped different forms of bias.
“We are dealing with a belief system that has found its way into institutions and into structures and that belief is an absurd notion of a taxonomy that can be applied to human value,” Christopher said.
That taxonomy was formed four centuries ago, she said, when a hierarchy of human beings was created based on not just color, but also culture and lifestyles.
“You have this embedded belief that there are different human beings on the planet who behave differently, who think differently, but most painfully, who deserve to be treated differently,” she told the group.
Rev. Ron English helped organize the event and served as its moderator. He said if we don’t discuss the subconscious beliefs that the races are different and the mistakes of the past, we can’t move forward as a society.
“As Maya Angelo used to say, when you know better you do better and that’s what the whole conversation here is trying to get at,” he said.
English hoped the event encourages similar dialogues in communities across the state to help citizens recognize their differences and similarities in order to work together to better West Virginia.
The next step for English in the conversation: he and other church leaders in Charleston are planning a day long discussion of race relations with members of the Charleston Police Department. That is scheduled for December 8.