On August 30, 2017, the Division of Student Equity and Support Programs hosted the Black Lives, Gray Matter Symposium in collaboration with educator, filmmaker and activist, Kristina Williams. The program kicked off with a film screening of the documentary, “Black Lives, Gray Matter” directed by Williams who created the Black Lives, Gray Matter forum and has hosted this forum at different campuses to reclaim voices of the black community in discussing issues of police brutality and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The symposium continued with a panel discussion moderated by David “Davey D” Cook, Professor of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University. Special guests, Wanda Johnson, (mother Oscar Grant), Gwen Carr, (mother of Eric Garner) and Samaria Rice (mother of Tamir Rice) were greeted with a standing ovation from an audience of over 550 as they walked onto the theater stage and took their seats. Each of them shared their personal stories of loss, trauma, injustice, and the support they received from community activists that helped draw attention to the deaths of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice nationally and globally.
From this conversation, panelists implored students to become involved on campus and in their respective communities so they can use education as a way to enact social change. The panelists also shared the ways they became more engaged with efforts to address police brutality and educate society so that “another mother does not have to lose her child.” In addition to speaking to schools, organizations, houses of faith, and businesses all over the country, these women also oversee foundations and work on numerous community projects to increase awareness around these issues.
The second half of the symposium featured a panel of students and faculty from Skyline College moderated by educator and activist, Farima Pour-Khorsid. The featured panelists were faculty members, Tony Jackson and Steve Aurilio and Skyline College students: Alfredo Olguin, Naomi Quizon, and Olivia Yancey. The panelists shared insight from the perspective of the local Skyline College community. They addressed a variety of topics including the need for culturally competent professional development for staff and faculty, the school-to-prison pipeline and the need for universal health care, higher education and affordable housing.
Given the recent events of white supremacist and alt right protests taking place all across the nation, the denouncement of DACA, and events locally that have targeted people of color, the symposium provided an opportunity for students, staff, faculty, administrators and community members to collectively think, listen, and reflect on the actions that must be taken to create a more humane, equitable and just world.
Jennifer Merrill, Professor of Psychology at Skyline College stated, “I teach the concept of self efficacy in Social Psychology. During the symposium, I thought a lot about self efficacy when Gwen Carr shared how she turned ‘her mourning into a movement.’ I was deeply moved by these words. To hear how these mothers experienced the tragedy of losing a child to injustice and still found the strength to turn the situation into something powerful and positive had a big impact on me.”
Article by Katrina Pantig