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home : community : community Monday, November 20, 2017

10/20/2016 3:59:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Brown Bag Lunch Series Launches At St. Kate's

By Amy Doeun

On Friday, September 16, the Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women at the University of St. Catherine was filled to overflowing. Director Sharon Doherty said of coordinator Sia Vang, "She is the force behind all of this." Vang was at the time in the hallway searching for more chairs to cram into the quickly overflowing room. Vang said, "I have been in the hallway for the past 10 minutes, I can't even get in. I am loving the turnout."

The crowds were for the first of the school's Brown Bag Lunch Series. This is a series of lectures and discussions held over the lunch hour and focusing on issues of social justice. The first lunch of the school year focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. Three professors from the college shared different aspects of the movement.

"All of us know that things are not the way we want them right now," said Doherty. "We have never had this kind of turnout. We have a mix of emotions, but all know that we need a change."

Pa Der Vang, Critical Hmong Studies faculty leader and a member of the Social Work department, was joined by Nancy Heitzeg and Daniel Williams, co-directors of Critical Studies in Race and Ethnicity and members of the Sociology Department.

Heitzeg began talking about the history of the movement that grew largely out of several high profile cases of police brutality, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Mike Brown. She explained that Black Lives Matter is basically an "organizing umbrella for a number of local chapters." However they do have a list of demands; end the war on black people, reparations for slavery, political power, and community control.

Heitzeg continues, "It is policing that becomes the immediate concern. This emerges out of slave patrol. But it does not stay in the black community it is a policing of bodies of color, policing others, racial profiling, militarization and criminalization of protest."

Heitzeg added that, "That racism drives the war on drugs. And it is not always against black people. The number of recent deportations of Cambodian immigrants that have been in the country for years shows that the war on drugs affects all."

Many immigrants and refugees come from areas of the world where the police and military are virtually the same. Heitzeg said the U.S. is increasingly "militarizing local police, through surplus military gear and actively recruiting military veterans as part of their police force." The City of St. Paul is an example of this with an excess of military surplus gear that was purchased for the Republican National Convention, which was held in St. Paul in 2008.

"Up until about two months ago we had no national statistics on the number of citizens killed by police. Think about that. They are going to start monitoring the killings of citizens by police. Individual citizens had been hand counting from newspapers and other public sources. The number is 1 every 28 hours. Last year 1,146 citizens were killed by police," states Heitzeg.

Daniel Williams describes himself as a "St. Paulite from Rondo. Somehow I learned German and ended up in Germany."

He brought an international perspective to the workshop. He has studied in France, Germany and Latin America. He spoke of a recent police brutality case in France that had people shouting, "Black Lives Matter" in English. He said, "It is real and helping people find a voice."

While France is known for racial inequality it is not known for police brutality and the above case is relatively rare. Whereas the U.S. has 5% of the world population and 25% of the prison population. France and Germany have much smaller prison populations. "We need to recognize the U.S. for its violence."

Pa Der Vang spoke about the roles of "Allies and Accomplices." She started with a question, "What can we do on a micro level? What do we mean by social justice and how do we internalize that?"

It is important to note that even members of communities of color can have internal bias, even against their own group. A large part of Black Lives Matter is to give the target group "empowerment."

The steps to empowerment for all communities and unlearn the process of inequality are:

1. Getting an education, unlearning oppressive beliefs and actions. It is a life long process, not a single event and welcomes learning opportunities.

2. You have to be willing to take risks, try new behaviors and act in spite of your own fear.

3. When you act against social injustice you understand that it is in your own self-interest as well.

4. Be committed to taking action against social injustice in your own sphere of influence. Saying simple things like, "I value our relationship that is why I am going to say something to you. I am going to be vulnerable with you," can make it easier to approach family and friends.

5. Remember being a change agent can be exhausting. There is a learning edge you need to push past the edge.

6. We are empowered and we know that we can make a difference.

While Black Lives Matter has been criticized for not being inclusive of other communities of color, racial inequality is inclusive. Ignoring the plight of others will not solve problems or save yourself. That is why it is important to connect with allies and accomplices.

"Let go of unproductive emotional reactions. Listen, seek for more information, think big picture beyond yourself. Receive feedback as a gift, take a new perspective and problem solve." That is the message that I took away from the First Brown Bag Lunch Series at St. Kate's.

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