In the shadow of America’s not-so-distant and collective history, the scars of Jim Crow continue to dim perspectives on race, especially in the Mississippi Delta. In response, Delta State University continues down the path of international distinction with its announcement of an innovative academic conference focusing on race relations and diversity.
Introduced as a new program that is open to the public and titled “Winning the Race: A Conference on Diversity and Community,” the seminar is scheduled for March 18-19.
The conference will place special emphasis on student-level concerns, but will also offer a wide selection of sessions for all attendees — including such topics as Civil Rights history, education, religion, healthcare and multi-cultural sensitivity.
The Winning the Race Committee developed the conference with three overarching goals: engage in conversations with campus and community constituencies that will build an appreciation for diversity differences and a spirit of community through shared ideas; promote a broad discourse on race relations by building conversations to bring together diverse communities in the Delta through sharing of ideas and building cooperation; and to rekindle a hope that Delta communities will move toward greater equality and reduce racial disparities and tensions.
Georgene Clark, committee chair, has been working hard to open dialogue about race, assumptions and fears — in hopes that others will fill the silence by soliciting ideas and building cooperation.
“With its diverse population, Delta State is the obvious choice to take the lead when it comes to issues of race and diversity,” said Clark. “The purpose of this conference is to begin the conversation about race and race relations, and to encourage its continuation in an effort to foster a climate of inclusiveness through a shared appreciation and better understanding of our differences.
“It is our hope that this conference will be the catalyst for building an even stronger spirit of cooperation and community — both on campus and beyond.”
Winning the Race is something President William N. LaForge has strongly advocated for since taking office in April of 2013.
“This conference is exactly what Delta State should be doing as a leader in the Delta and the state,” said LaForge. “While classroom instruction is our first mission, we have a responsibility to host and lead programs and dialogue involving key social and cultural issues.
“This conference will engage our students and faculty with others who can enlighten and advance our understanding and appreciation for our differences and our common challenges. I look forward to a healthy and open dialogue that showcases Delta State as the academic leader we are.”
The schedule kicks off with two distinguished Mississippi political leaders who are both recognized for their work on race relations in the Magnolia State — the honorable Gov. William F. Winter and Congressman Bennie Thompson.
Winter has served Mississippi in numerous official capacities, including Governor from 1980–1984, Lt. Governor from 1972–1976, Mississippi State Treasurer from 1964–1968, Mississippi State Tax Collector from 1956–1964 and Representative in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1948–1956.
He is remembered for his dedication to racial equality, and in June of 1997, Winter was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a member of the National Advisory Board on Race Relations. He is also credited with the establishment of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on the University of Mississippi’s Oxford campus. Staff from the institute will be leading a number of activities at the conference.
The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation works in communities and classrooms, in Mississippi and beyond, to support a movement of racial equity and wholeness as a pathway to ending and transcending all division and discrimination based on difference.
Thompson, who has been in office as the District 2 congressman since 1993, has long been known for his work with race relations and giving a voice to the voiceless. He is the longest-serving African-American elected official in the state of Mississippi.
As a product of the Civil Rights movement, Thompson has supported bills that aim to improve the health of minority individuals, and has fought to increase the presence of minorities in the financial services industry, along with minorities and women in upper level positions of management.
LaForge will welcome these keynoters with an opening session at 6 p.m. on March 18 at the Bologna Performing Arts Center on campus. Delta Music Institute students will provide musical selections between speakers, followed by hors d’oeuvres and a performance by the DMI band Ole Skool Revue.
The following day begins at 8:30 a.m. in the BPAC with a presentation titled “Sharing Responsibility and Claiming Ownership” by John Dittmer, an award-winning author, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University and a nationally recognized authority on the Civil Rights movement.
Dittmer’s book “Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi,” won the following awards: Bancroft Prize in American History; Lillian Smith Book Award, Southern Regional Council; McLemore Prize, Mississippi Historical Society; and the 1995 Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights in North America given by the Gustavus Myers Center.
A number of other key speakers will highlight the full day of activities, including Leland Speed’s speech “Making the Economic and Business Case for Racial Healing and Equality” in room 302A of the H.L. Nowell Student Union. Speed, who once served as executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, is recognized as an economics and business icon and in 1998 was named to the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame.
Cetin Oguz, art professor and native of Turkey, has been an active Winning the Race committee member and is thrilled to see this conference come to life at Delta State.
“Discussion of these topics is very important in our region and also our nation,” said Oguz. “Our goal is to spark meaningful conversation about social issues that are sometimes difficult to discuss. Developing this conference shows that Delta State has a willingness to understand the significance of diversity and equality.”
For a full schedule of panels and discussions, visit www.deltastate.edu/winningtherace.
Delta State will continue to advance conference achievements through post-event activities and will harmonize them in a second conference in 2015 and on an annual basis thereafter.
Winning the Race Committee members include: Georgene Clark, chair; Garry Jennings, chair; Paulette Meikle-Yaw, chair; Luther Brown; Reagan Dilmore; Teresa Houston; Charles McAdams; Davlon Miller; Allan Mitchell; Billy Moore; Cetin Oguz; Henry Outlaw; Arlene Sanders; Myrtis Tabb; Tricia Walker; Sam Washington; Leigh E. Korb; and Michelle Roberts.
Sponsors for the conference include: AT&T, Delta State Diversity Committee, Delta State Quality Enhancement Plan, Aramark and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning (DCCL). The DCCL utilized an endowment established by Watt Bishop in the names of Amzie Moore and Sam Block. Earnings from this endowment will be used as a $2,500 challenge grant. The endowment resides within the Delta State University Foundation.