By Matt Gleason
Mental Health Association Oklahoma
To get all kinds of inspired by this year’s unforgettable Zarrow Mental Health Symposium — Challenging Injustice and Discrimination, check out the whirlwind summary below.
We’ll take a glimpse at some of our keynote speakers’ most poignant statements. Plus, we’ll recount a few of the many heartbreaking facts learned during our special “Witness the Power of Black Wall Street” trolley tour.
But don’t forget that the Symposium website is your place to check out full keynote blogs, see fun pics from the conference, buy conference T-shirts and get the skinny on all things Zarrow.
OK, let’s get started with our opening keynote…
Dr. Joy DeGruy
As we know from her acclaimed book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing,” Dr. DeGruy encourages us all to view our attitudes, assumptions, and behaviors through the lens of history. Through this, we gain a greater understanding of the impact centuries of slavery and oppression has had on African Americans.
During Dr. DeGruy’s session, one of the most impactful facts she shared was that in 1526, Spanish explorers brought the first enslaved Africans to the Carolinas. And slavery wasn’t made illegal in the United States until 1865. Thus, as she explains, “Africans suffered the indignities of bondage for years.”
But, still, the U.S. did not issue an apology for slavery until 2008 and then again in 2009. What was remarkable is that many of us in the audience had no idea the apology had ever been offered.
“The resolution did not, however, address in any way the issue of reparations nor did the resolution offer any suggestions about how to repair the damage done to Africans and their descendants,” Dr. DeGruy explained. “It was … just an apology.”
Dr. Derald Wing Sue
We must never forget that, as Dr. Derald Wing Sue has said, “As long as well-intentioned individuals are unaware that they are engaging in microaggressions, they won’t change.”
Without a doubt, Dr. Sue can truly be described as a pioneer in, among other things, microaggression theory and the psychology of racism and anti-racism.
“Simply stated, microaggressions are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to marginalized groups,” explained Dr. Sue. “In private and public situations, people of color, for example, often describe microaggressions as a pattern of being overlooked, under-respected and devalued because of their race.
Here are a few of the key takeaways from his keynote.
Examples of racial microaggressions…
- A third-generation Asian American student is complimented by a white classmate for speaking such “good English.” (Hidden Message: Asian Americans are perpetual aliens in their own country.)
- An African American student is complimented by the teacher for being so articulate and bright. (Hidden Message: Most African Americans are inarticulate and lack intelligence.)
To overcome microaggressions, we must…
- Acknowledge and accept the fact that you are a product of cultural conditioning and have inherited the biases, fears and stereotypes of your ancestors.
- Understand yourself as a racial/cultural being by making the “invisible,” visible. Race, culture and ethnicity is a function of each and everyone of us. It is not just a “minority” thing.
- Be open and honest about your vulnerabilities.
- Monitor and make sense of your emotional reactions.
- Everyone commits racial blunders. Don’t become defensive. Recover, not cover up!
Witness the Power of Black Wall Street
Step through the gates of Tulsa’s John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park and it’s impossible to not feel great sorrow as you learn the details of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot — massacre is a more apt description. It destroyed Greenwood, also known as “Black Wall Street,” an African American multiracial community like no other in the country.
Spurred by the false accusation of an African American teenager assaulting a white woman, a white mob turned its wrath against Greenwood. As a Reconciliation marker declares, “By the end of the day, whites had burned down more than 1,000 of our homes and businesses, and more than 15 of our churches … our dead were buried in unmarked graves. Greenwood, it seemed, was gone.”
But Greenwood survived.
“Out of the ashes of intolerance and fires of hatred came new homes and businesses, schools and churches,” another Reconciliation marker explains.
Our eye-opening walking tour was led by Jean Neal, of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.
At one point, Jean asked the audience of 60 people seated in the Greenwood Cultural Center to all stand. Then she asked us all to raise our hands … and keep them there. Then, to great dramatic effect, Jean set the scene for what it must have been like for African American men, women and children to be gathered like cattle, then threatened to be shot if we lowered our hands.
And it’s all true, according to the report by the “Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.” Just read this chronicle of the massacre as it happened June 1, 1921 – 5:30 am to 8:30 am…
- As the wave of white rioters descended upon black Tulsa, a deadly pattern soon took shape. A deadly firefight erupted at the site of an old clay pit off of Standpipe Hill, where several black defenders went to their deaths fighting. Stories have also been handed down over the years about Pegleg Taylor , who is said to have single-handedly fought off more than a dozen white invaders. And along the northern edge of Sunset Hill, the white guardsmen briefly found themselves under attack. Black Tulsa was not going without a fight.
- First, the armed whites broke into African American homes and businesses, forcing the occupants into the street, where, at gunpoint, they were marched off to Convention Hall. Anyone who resisted was shot, as were, it appears, men in homes where firearms were discovered.
- Black riflemen positioned themselves in the belfry of the newly-completed Mount Zion Baptist Church, whose commanding view of the area below Standpipe Hill allowed them to temporarily stem the tide of the white invasion. But when whites set-up a machine gun — perhaps the same weapon that was used at the granary— and riddled the church tower with its devastating fire, the black defenders were overwhelmed. Mount Zion was later torched.
And so much more happened during the massacre… Read all about it here.
Our friend Andrew C. Bentley was in the crowd for Sebastian’s keynote, “Disability: The Familiar Made Strange, Strange Made Dangerous & Then Disposable.” Andrew, who is a social work student, was kind enough to share his thoughts with us, which he first published on his own blog.
Sebastian Margaret is a non-binary person (they/them) with cerebral palsy. The content of this presentation was above and beyond. Sebastian explained the various physical and cognitive disabilities related to palsy that they have and the discrimination them and other people with disability face.
“They were very clear that the only reason they had survived their various encounters with the police and society in general is because they are white. Although their white privilege has kept them alive it has not spared them increased scrutiny and even assaults and wrongful imprisonment due to perceptions around their disability, i.e. being drunk or high.
“They also recounted their fight to keep the legal right to raise their children. At every turn the society in which Sebastian lives is trying to take something from them and push them to the outer edge of society. While Sebastian has fought back many are not able to.
“The most heart-breaking thing I heard at their presentation is that they and their family had been told that they should have been killed. I am grateful that they were not and were able to overcome their many obstacles to speak with us at the symposium.”
Dr. Cornel West
During Dr. Cornel West’s closing plenary session, “Justice is What Love Looks Like in Public,” he criticized the abuse of power and injustice. He also inspired the crowd with powerful reminders that we can join him as “all-season love warriors” as we stand up and do everything we can to promote equity for the most marginalized of us.
Here’s one of our favorite quotes from his electrifying speech…
“I don’t begin a dialogue of injustice and discrimination with public policy. I begin with soulcraft. What kind of human beings are we going to choose to be and what kind of example will we attempt to be as we make our move toward the worms. That’s the question and every person has to answer that within the inner-precincts of their own soul. And it’s not a matter of skin pigmentation, gender, sexual orientation or national identity. Yes, those things are real but in the end it’s a profoundly human question. And there’s no accident that our English word, human, derives from the Latin humando, which means burial and burying. And what will they say at your funeral? They’re not gonna read your resume. They’re going to talk about your character. They’re gonna talk about what cost you were willing to pay. They’re gonna talk about what kinds of risks did you take. They’re gonna talk about how deep is your love. Thank the BeeGees for that question.”
One More Thing!
To forever remember this year’s Symposium, be sure to purchase a conference tee to share how much you care about challenging injustice and discrimination. Represent and wear what you believe! They are super-soft and make great gifts for yourself, friends and family. Click here to buy yours today!