13th annual conference commemorates journey to equality
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 10:02
To many, Black History Month is a time dedicated to remembering where African-Americans have come from and where they’re going, a time to remember, a time to talk and a time to respect a group of people who have overcome much.
However, despite this large and national observance, for a while, UTM was the only school that hosted a Civil Rights conference annually.
“It began because nobody else was doing an annual celebration of Civil Rights. … Dr. Alice-Catherine Carls got [it going], and Dr. David Barber has carried it on in the last few years. … This was actually a niche for us, [because] we’re probably an unlikely place to host a Civil Rights conference, which makes it all the more important that we do it,” said Dr. David Coffey, chair of the Department of History and Philosophy.
“We have a lot of people who are really not exposed to issues of rights, to issues of race and to issues of class – some of the things we discuss at the Civil Rights conference. It’s been a unique opportunity for us to bring in world-class speakers. It’s been great,” Coffey said.
Even though the conference has been going on for 13 years now, each year brings something different to learn with various professors and influential African-Americans visiting the UTM campus. Event Coordinator and UTM Associate Professor, Dr. David Barber said that this year brought highlights all of its own with “The Help” actress Florence Roach, presentations from UTM students, talks from people who lived through desegregation and influential scholars like Dr. Vincent Harding and Diane Nash.
“We had some really good events this year. If you look at the conference schedule, every event was better than I anticipated. More than in previous years, this conference placed before all of us the task of changing this society, making it a society based on real respect for every human being, based on the notion that every single individual can and should lead a life free from fear and want,” Barber said.
This year was also different from past ones in that it changed a few elements, Coffey said.
“This was a transitional year in some ways. [For one, we moved] from a discussion of the past to more scholarly-based discussion [with] research.
“[Also], we brought back the student writing competition; we hadn’t done that for a couple of years. And we made the conference a little smaller this year, a little more compact, and I think that worked well,” Coffey said.
As for the effect the Civil Rights Conference has on students, Barber said that it gives them the education they need to combat inequality as a whole.
“I think UTM students, and students everywhere, understand that the country they’ve grown up in is a deeply troubled country – a country in which we continue to have vast and growing inequalities,” Barber said.
“Disproportionately, young black people go to schools that do not educate them; disproportionately, they continue to live in poverty-stricken communities; disproportionately, they are victims of the criminal justice system. But it’s not only young black people who suffer in this society – most of our young people do not believe that they can make any difference in our society,” he said.
“So the civil rights conference is important because it brings to campus people who in their youth and younger days did make a difference, did fight for a more humane society, and did, at least partially, take down a racially unjust system and bring a little more democracy to the United States.
“[So], our young people and our campus community can draw on the experience, the inspiration and the wisdom of these people in order to plot a more intelligent course for justly resolving the immense problems we face as a nation. That’s the value of the conference,” Barber said.