Photos, clockwise from top left: keynote speaker Kevin Powell; Delta State President William N. LaForge; Delta Music Institute student Jerion Keyes; participants of the local high school leadership forum.
Delta State University recently wrapped up its fifth annual Winning the Race conference, its award-winning race relations conference, held March 26-27.
This year’s conference, “Intersectionalities in Action: The Quest for Equity, Access, and Justice,” was presented in partnership and with support from Casey Family Programs and the Mississippi Humanities Council.
Delta State University President William N. LaForge closed the event by thanking co-chairs Dr. Temika Simmons and Dr. Charles Westmoreland, and by encouraging others to continue the imperative dialogue ignited at the conference.
“Delta State remains committed to core values and principles of equality,” LaForge said. “We proudly celebrate our multicultural identity and heritage every day. It’s not just black and white issues. It’s the full canvas of issues in society today — race, gender, sexual identity and preference, ethnicity, age, background, class struggle, poverty, education, social justice. We have 134 international students looking in at what we are doing today. These are truly global issues of great importance, but they are also truly local.”
And on an international level, the conference was watched via livestream by Perm State University in Perm, Russia, and by Delta State faculty and staff traveling in China. In addition, a German radio station visited campus to record part of the conference.
LaForge said if the dialogue changed even just one mind or heart, then the program was worthwhile.
“Let us grow and mature responsibly and together in this sphere of thought and activity as people of good will, to foster understanding, to be change agents, and to ensure — by our actions — that no one divides us, and that all of us understand the importance of working for a future in which all views and people are understood and valued, and in which we share the abundance of the opportunities this world presents us. That means a new Mississippi, and that’s up to us.”
Simmons, who was thrilled with the quality presenters, said the conference did an excellent job of highlighting places of equity exist in Mississippi.
“This conference is a good example of how we can better understand the racial undertones in everything we do,” said Simmons. “We want to be intentional about the racial implications things like who has access to healthcare and education — and provide the opportunity for people to be expressive of who they are, absent of stereotypes. That’s what this conference is supposed to do, to let people know that they can’t fight for equity without knowing where spaces of equity are.”
Westmoreland, co-chair with Simmons, said the hard work will not stop after the conference closing.
“Winning the Race remains active throughout the year thanks to the outstanding work of our Sustainability Committee,” said Westmoreland. “Through this committee, WTR has been able to establish partnerships with Delta State and off-campus entities to promote continued dialogue on race relations, and building more inclusive and equitable communities.”
“Next week, we are proud to be involved with Civil Rides, which is a three-day bike trek from the steps of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, that follows in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to raise awareness around persistent rural poverty in America, and advocate for racial justice and healing.”
WTR also works closely with the Delta State Diversity Committee and Quality Enhancement Plan to sponsor and coordinate events on campus. Westmoreland encouraged all campus and community entities to contact WTR with ideas about future events that can advance the conversations on race, inclusion and equity. These efforts will be ongoing.
Conference programming highlighted the various ways in which race and race relations intersect areas of daily lives — from politics, economics, health and housing, to education, entertainment, art and science.
Keynoting the affair was Kevin Powell, a political activist, poet, writer and entrepreneur. Powell is widely considered one of the most acclaimed political, cultural, literary and hip-hop voices in America.
Also keynoting a conference luncheon was civil rights activist Dave Dennis, who participated in the first Freedom Bus ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. Dennis was also a key figure in voter registration efforts during the 1964 Freedom Summer.
A community gathering on March 25 officially kicked off the schedule with an open house and press conference at the Amzie Moore House Museum and Interpretive Center in Cleveland. The occasion honored local civil rights leaders, veterans and their families.
LaForge spearheaded the first conference in 2014 as an innovative academic symposium with a focus on engaging, promoting and rekindling conversations in hopes that Delta-area communities can move toward greater equity, forward thinking and reduced racial tensions.
In recognition of this work, the university received the 2014 Civil Rights and Social Justice Award accepted by LaForge at the fourth National Civil Rights Conference in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
For more information, visit http://www.deltastate.edu/winning-the-race/.