Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Living While Black in America panel discussion

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Southeast Missouri State University's Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity organized a black panel presentation Monday, Feb. 25. named,"Living While Black" to share stories, experiences and struggles about being African-American and have a conversation that most are scared to have.

This event was held at the Cape Girardeau Public Library where community members, leaders, students and teachers were invited to hear and share experiences as well as ask questions about issues that arise in the black community.

The panel consisted of Southeast student Devin Rhone, assistant director for Academic Support Centers Sean Spinks, associate professor of mass media Tamara Zellars Buck, Cape Girardeau Gateway Church pastor Ben Porter and NAACP president Ms. Pat McBride. Associate professor of Elementary, Early and Special Education Shonta Smith was the facilitator of the panel discussion.

Steve Fair of the Cape Girardeau community attended the event with his 7-year-old son. Fair said it is important to understand what African-Americans go through and his son is at the age of understanding.

Cape Girardeau resident Brenda Newbernsaid "I came just to hear about what is being said. If I don't attend, how should I expect others to attend."

The event began with an introduction of each panelist and a short introduction speech to get the audience involved and comfortable.

In her introduction speech, Smith gave the audience advice using acronyms she has picked up and uses for her presentations.

"We must get RAW and to move forward, have a KHAOS mindset,"Smith said.

RAW is an acronym for realize, admit and work. Smith said it’s about realizing what's going on, admitting the problem, and be willing to do the work to fix the problem. She said KHAOS stood for keep healing and overcoming struggles.

When Smith asked the audience to consider what their experience has been being black, the room was silent as everyone reflected on their experiences. Notecards were provided so they could write their answers down

Buck was the first to speak on this subject. She spoke from her own experience, saying being black is exhausting.

"Every day since the age of 10, I've been aware of who I am,” Buck said. “People are always watching you. I have to represent. I find myself lying in bed preparing for what's next."

Rhone said being black is a never-ending battle.

Spinks was next with his response and said being black is to have resilience.

“I remember being told at a young age that you're not good enough or not smart enough,"Spinks said. "A lot of people want to demonstrate our culture, but not be for our culture.”

But not everyone has had negative experiences being black. McBride gave a refreshing perspective on her experiences while reflecting on her achievements.

"To me, the black experience is exciting, especially being the first African-American cashier at a grocery store in Georgia,” McBride said.

Smith pointed out how experiences make a person who they are.

"Each individual has had an experience. As a country, we've tried to minimize someone else’s experience,”Smith said. “Recognize everyone's experience and acknowledge it. We will never be able to get over it until we get real.”

Another topic of discussion was how the members of the audience could be the change they would like to see.

"Remember through great successes, there are also struggles,” McBride said. “We must come together as one, learn to accept other people’s experiences and capitalize on them."

Buck questions where the leaders are in our community. She feels leaders should be doing more to help bring a change.

"As a leader, I feel that it is my civic responsibility to step up," Buck said.

Porter indicated he pushes to be the change in the community work that he does.

"I go to a prison to visit the brothers both black and white. The brothers in there are hurting. I want to develop a curriculum for the men and bring hope," Porter said.

Before he graduates, Rhone explained he prepares himself for what could happen in the future.

"To be the change I want to see, I put myself in different situations to get ready for situations that may happen after I graduate,"Rhone said.

Smith called for a break in conversation to show a video of Malcolm X at the Oxford Union Speech to help explain the prejudices and inequalities of different races.

"Anytime you live in a society supposedly based upon law and it doesn’t enforce its own laws because the color of a man’s skin happens to be wrong, then I say those people are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice when the government can’t give them justice," Malcolm X said.

Following the video, audience members were instructed to break up into five groups based on their rows of seats. Each group had a panelist as their leader. The instructions were to think of ways to take action against the problems African-Americans face.

"We need to have safe zones all around the Cape Girardeau community so that we can have a continuous discussion where anyone can ask questions without being judged,"Buck's group said

McBride’s group was next to speak on the representation of teachers in schools.

"There needs to be teachers both black and white so that every student can have someone to identify with and be comfortable," McBride’s group said.

This event concluded with everyone gathered in unity holding hands in a circle for closing remarks.