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social justice

Frank Harris, journalism

Perhaps the most controversial word in the American lexicon is a word many do not speak. The word commonly known as “the n-word” has a longer history in the United States than many people realize, but what is behind its taboo nature and its loaded meanings?

“Everyone has an n-word story,” says Journalism Professor Frank Harris III, and a couple of years ago, he set out on a journey across America to get to the bottom of the word’s meanings and place in American culture. The product of his research, the film “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word,” combines interviews with diverse Americans, research through hundreds of newspaper archives, and surveys of today’s news media. In the film, Harris takes viewers on an informative, provocative journey that fosters discussion about “the word that persistently rattles the chain from our past to our present,” as he describes it.

On November 16, as part of Social Justice Week, Harris screened his film and led a discussion about it in the Adanti Student Center Theater.

Of his project, Harris says, “Frankly, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would receive. After all, it’s not every day that a man with a camera walks up to people and asks them about the n-word and their first or most memorable experience with it.”

The film began with his research on the many racial names by which Americans of black African descent have been identified over the years. “My focus soon shifted toward the n-word and my desire to track its origins,” he says, “as well as the experiences that Americans of all backgrounds have had with this word.”

Harris says, “It is an interesting encounter when the interviewer and interviewee are of the same race. It becomes even more interesting when the two are of a different race. The stories told by the many people I interviewed, interspersed with the word’s usage in America’s news media, provided a compelling story that I wanted to share.”

The film examines the haunting, persistent link of the word and its variant forms with the words “kill” and “death” and violence against blacks. It includes painful stories from older black Americans about their experiences with the word, along with portrayals of the experiences of younger African Americans who use it as an acceptable and different term of endearment, never having felt its sting. Harris has also captured stories from whites, Asians, Hispanics and others in America about their experiences from parents who taught them the word or told them never to say it.

Among those who appear in the film are former Black Panther Party leader Ericka Huggins, discussing the n-word and the Panthers; journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, recalling her experience at the University of Georgia in the early 1960s; Yale child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer discussing the effects of the n-word; and Mississippi civil rights workers describing the physical pain of violence that often accompanied the word in their experiences.

In addition to interviews, Harris uses original newspaper clips in the film to illustrate the striking ways in which the word has been used. The clips dispel the myth that rappers and hip-hop artists created the variant form of the word that ends in “-a” rather than “-er.” The film shows that the word was in use freely during and after slavery in America and reveals that even then, blacks were referring to each other using the n-word. Among the discoveries Harris made in his research was that Abraham Lincoln used the word during his 1860 presidential campaign stop in Hartford, Conn.

The film has been an Official Selection in the 2016 Twin Cities Black Film Festival and the 2016 Baltimore International Black Film Festival. It will be screened at a festival in Texas in 2017. Harris says of the film’s reception, “It’s quite amazing, the impact it has had.”

In addition to teaching journalism at Southern, Harris is an award-winning Hartford Courant columnist.

Watch the trailer for “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word”

A group of committed SCSU students, faculty, staff, and administrators have come together as The University of Compassion Initiative to inspire compassionate action in the community. The Compassion Lecture Series is one of many creative ways to enhance the university’s overall mission of justice and service, while cultivating an environment that supports the well-being of students, staff, administrators, and faculty, said Dana Schneider, an associate professor of social work who has been helping to spearhead the effort with a campus wide coalition. A March 9 presentation by Dr. Randall Horton, “Forgive Me, Father,” is the kickoff lecture in the Compassion Lecture Series sponsored by Faculty Development and corresponds with the 2nd Annual Week of Wellness. Horton’s lecture will take place in the ASC Theatre from 7-9 p.m. He will lecture on the power and necessity of compassion as it relates to his newly released Hook: A Memoir, which chronicles a narrative of addiction, homelessness, and incarceration, and how kindheartedness saved his life.

Dr. Randall Horton
Dr. Randall Horton

Originally from Birmingham, Ala., Horton now resides in Harlem, N.Y. He is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. He is also a member of the band Heroes Are Gang Leaders, a group whose unique blend of blues, jazz, funk, hip hop, go-go, R&B, soul, classical music, poetry, dramaturgy and prose, continues the legacy of poet Amiri Baraka. Horton is a Cave Canem Fellow, a member of the Affrilachian Poets and associate professor of English at the University of New Haven. Triquarterly/Northwestern University Press is the publisher of his latest poetry collection Pitch Dark Anarchy. Augury Books published Hook: A Memoir in fall of 2015.

In addition, Horton has been interviewed on Fox News, NPR, CTNPR, the New Haven Register and countless online journals, magazines, and radio shows. He is also on the Board of Directors of Pen America’s Pen Prison Writing Program.

The aims of the Compassion Lecture Series are to: educate faculty and the larger university community on the role of compassion in creating more just societies and will provide forums for ongoing dialogue about compassion; demonstrate the value of compassion in the promotion of well-being, health, and the environment; expose the faculty and larger community to the scientific research examining the role of compassion in the lives of individuals and communities; provide examples for faculty, staff, and students of compassion in action in university life and the global community; and further the aims of the University of Compassion Initiative to reduce suffering and promote compassionate engagement in all facets of university life.

More on The University of Compassion Initiative:

As members of the SCSU family, we believe it is our responsibility to engage others with mutual respect and equity while fostering a safe and care caring environment for all, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, appearance, disability, and socioeconomic status. Compassion inspires a fulfilled humanity through informed empathy, ethical actions, an appreciation of diversity and the value of relationships. Through compassion we aspire to promote wellbeing and engage in harmonious relationships with all beings and manifestations of the natural world. We have the power to break down political, dogmatic, ideological, and religious boundaries, and foster unity throughout our communities.

Our actions are supported by a global movement represented by the Charter for Compassion. We are also following in the footsteps of our sister institutions, WCSU and CCSU, to become a designated University of Compassion.

Current Events:

  1. “Mindful Mondays” (a contemplative practice forum open to the entire SCSU community) meets Mondays 12:15-1:00 p.m. in Buley 449.
  2. The University of Compassion Initiative recently joined forces with Unity Pledge Committee.
  3. The Initiative sponsors the Compassion Lecture Series.

 

 

 

 

Karim Calle received her undergraduate degree in social work at Southern’s winter commencement exercises on December 18 — but she has spent years working for social change. “I am very active with my community, especially the immigrant community and my Hispanic community,” says Calle, who immigrated to the United States from Peru with her family when she was six years old.

Both parents were inspirational. “My dad was a political figure in Peru,” says Calle of her late father. “My mother is very involved with her church and the community. She is proud . . . a spokesperson, who is not afraid to say what she needs. But she does so with respect. She says people tell her, ‘Your daughter reminds us so much of you.’”

Calle recalls that her mother — then a widow with young children — often faced discrimination, which was intensified by language barriers. “I was her translator for everything, so I felt her pain, too,” Calle says.

Her involvement with Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA) — a grassroots social justice organization made up of immigrants in the Greater New Haven area — came naturally. ULA is dedicated to furthering workers’ rights, and immigrant and civil rights, while promoting culture and the community. While Calle had already been active with the organization, her commitment was heightened by a requirement to complete community work as part of her social work major. “I did so much work for ULA that semester . . . so much more than was required,” says Calle, with a smile.

A social policy class taught by Yan Searcy, associate dean of Southern’s School of Health and Human Services, gave her the opportunity to take her commitment to the next level.  “With Dr. Searcy, I became much more involved in terms of lobbying . . . and learning how legislative sessions run. I didn’t know any of that until I attended his class,” says Calle.

She was a quick study. One of Searcy’s assignments was to follow a bill. Inspired by her work with ULA, Calle was drawn to Senate Bill 914 — An Act Concerning an Employer’s Failure to Pay Wages. “This bill requires an award of double damages to workers who have not been paid or have been underpaid by their employers,” says Calle. The stories she heard from those in the community provided a wealth of inspiration. She talks about women faced with sexual harassment. Underage workers who didn’t attend school, working 60 – 80 hours a week and being paid $5 an hour. Employees who worked countless consecutive days, too afraid to ask for a day off.  Others who never received the wages they were owed. “The biggest challenge was that the immigrant community was so fearful of coming forward. They were fearful that they might be deported. They were fearful that they might not be able to find another job if their names were listed anywhere — and these testimonies are public.”

Calle wrote a testimony to members of the Labor Committee on behalf of some of these workers, after asking Dr. Searcy for advice.  “The first thing he said, was just speak from your heart,” she says, noting she was present from 11 a.m. in the morning to 11 p.m. at night on the day she gave her testimony. Her commitment to following the bill didn’t end with the class. “I didn’t give up — not for one second,” says Calle, who hopes to attend a graduate program that combines community involvement and policy, and sees a future in politics.  She recalls emailing senators and representatives, and asking others to do the same . . .  visiting the Connecticut legislative office building up to three times a week. She dropped off literature compiled by ULA. Made phone calls and sent texts. Networked and brainstormed.

Calle also kept in contact with her professor. Prior to the start of her last semester at Southern, she emailed Dr. Searcy a photograph. She is one of 17 people standing around Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy at a bill signing ceremony for Public Act 15-86, An Act Concerning an Employer’s Failure to Pay Wages. Like the others pictured, Karim Calle is smiling.

Karim Calle

David Pettigrew, Bosnia

Through his writings, lectures and interviews with the media, Professor of Philosophy David Pettigrew has been a powerful voice for the victims of atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On Nov. 29, he delivered a lecture in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, on the legacy of the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the ethnic conflict in the fledgling nation 20 years ago.

Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia on March 1, 1992, triggering a secessionist bid by the country’s Serbs backed by the Yugoslavian capital, Belgrade, and a war that left about 100,000 dead, including the mass slaughter of many Bosnian Muslims by Serb forces.

Following earlier lectures in Prague and Stockholm that identified human rights violations in Republika Srpska, (the Bosnian Serb Republic), Pettigrew’s Nov. 29 speech condemned efforts in the republic to deny the genocide and to demean and otherwise psychologically intimidate Bosnian Muslims who were targeted and driven from Višegrad, in the eastern part of the country, as well as from other towns and villages across Republika Srpska.


Join Dr. Pettigrew for a film screening and discussion: Friday, Dec. 4 from 1-3 p.m.


Pettigrew wrote that the political culture in Republika Srpska “is breeding hatred and contempt of the Bosnian Muslims”:

“The culture of genocide denial and dehumanization, produces what I call in my paper a ‘cumulative cruelty’ directed at genocide survivors,” he said. “The cumulative cruelty directed against Bosnia’s Muslims and non-Serbs is the sad legacy of Dayton. The lecture calls for constitutional reform to reunify the country with national laws against hate speech and genocide denial…”

This summer, Pettigrew led a delegation to the town of Višegrad in eastern Bosnia to meet with activist Bakira Hasečić and show public solidarity with her in defense of the Pionirska Street house, where 59 women and children were burned alive. Hasečić , who was a rape victim in Višegrad, has been prosecuted and fined for trying to rebuild the house in order to save it from destruction by the municipality.

Pettigrew became particularly interested in Višegrad because of the nature of the atrocities there and because the town continues to maintain a culture of denial. Regarding the crimes in the town, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia wrote in its Judgement that:

“In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street [June 14, 1992] and Bikavac fires [June 27, 1992] must rank high…. By burning the victims and the houses in which they were trapped, Milan Lukić and the other perpetrators intended to obliterate the identities of their victims and, in so doing, to strip them of their humanity. The families of victims could not identify or bury their loved ones. … There is a unique cruelty in expunging all traces of the individual victims which must heighten the gravity ascribed to these crime.”

Newspaper 1Newspaper 2Newspaper 3

Today, only the Pionirska Street house remains, rebuilt by Hasečić and other local activists to prevent its destruction and preserve the memory of these crimes. The house is still threatened by an “expropriation” process by the city so the only memorial to the victims could still be destroyed, said Pettigrew, who joined the members of his delegation in laying flowers in the house in memory of the victims.

“When I put the flowers in the basement at the base of a display with the photos of the victims, everyone was in tears and speechless,” he said. “Without planning it, we formed a line-up for a photo in front of the basement where the crime took place: in memory of the victims, in solidarity with Bakira, and in defiance of genocide denial.”

The delegation who attended with Pettigrew (photographed below outside the Pionirska Street house) included: Ermin Kuka and Ilvana Salić, from The Institute for Research of Crimes against Humanity and International Law at the University of Sarajevo; Professor Benjamin Moore, from Fontbonne University in St. Louis; Marketá Slavková from Charles University Prague, and Jasmin Tabaković, a refugee who fled from Višegrad with his family when he was four years old. He lives now in Belgium, and this was the first time that he had returned since his family was expelled.

Pettigrew

Hasečić, president of the Association “Women Victims of War”-Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, wrote of Pettigrew: “At a time when the victims of the genocide and aggression against the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been abandoned, when we have been left vulnerable and exposed, while war criminals enjoy rights and protections, when we have again been forgotten by the international community, and when many historians around the world who serve the interests of the ideologues and lobbyists of greater Serbia seek to re-write history and wash the blood from the hands of the war criminals, there are a few intellectual and moral giants who dedicate their lives and research to telling humanity the truth about what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. Among these few is the distinguished Professor Dr. David Pettigrew.”

Pettigrew initially became involved in Višegrad in summer 2010 when he accompanied a government exhumation team there. Repairs on a nearby dam had caused the river level to drop, so the experts hoped they would be able to find the remains of the 3,000 victims who were murdered on the bridge and thrown into the river.

Pettigrew was assigned to a team that located loose bones on the river banks as well as full skeletons just beneath the riverbed. When about 60 of the victims had been identified, they were buried in the Muslim cemetery in Višegrad with a memorial inscribed to: “the memory of the victims of the Višegrad genocide.”

Local authorities began to plan to destroy the memorial and ground the word “genocide” from the inscription. In that and subsequent years, Pettigrew has written letters to United Nations and international government leaders, seeking to protect this memorial and the Pionirska Street house, as well delivering lectures and conducting media interviews to raise awareness about the genocide that occurred in the region and its lingering legacy. In October 2014, for example, he delivered a keynote address at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, on “The Suppression of Collective Memory and Identity in Bosnia: Prohibited Memorials and the Continuation of Genocide.”

The Institute for Research of Genocide Canada recently thanked Pettigrew for his “continuous struggle for the truth about the aggression against the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and genocide against its citizens.”

“Professor David Pettigrew is an example of an intellectual who put his knowledge at the service of truth and justice. It is a major contribution to peace in the world.”


Pettigrew’s Nov. 29 lecture and related press conference generated considerable media coverage in online portals, on television and in print:

On-line coverage

http://www.bhrt.ba/vijesti/bih/pettigrew-visoki-predstavnik-treba-postaviti-bih-na-put-ustavnih-reformi/

http://www.vecernji.ba/visoki-predstavnik-treba-postaviti-bih-na-put-ustavnih-reformi-1040948

http://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/krug-99-sada-vise-nego-ikad-potrebno-djelovanje-visokog-predstavnika-u-bih/151129045#18

http://novovrijeme.ba/pettigrew-visoki-predstavnik-treba-postaviti-bih-na-put-ustavnih-reformi/

TV News

http://www.federalna.ba/bhs/vijest/148748/video-na-krugu-99-o-bonskim-ovlastima

http://www.tv1.ba/vijesti/bosna-i-hercegovina/dogadjaji/25597-visoki-predstavnik-trenutno-kao-rijetko-kad-u-proteklim-godinama-treba-i-mora-koristiti-bonske-ovlasti.html