Black Students Conference conveys unity to SMC community

 Last Saturday, students from throughout southern California met in the Santa Monica College cafeteria to celebrate the fifth annual Black Student Conference. The Pan-Africa Support Group of SMC sponsored the event, with help from the Associated Students and the Black Collegians Program. This year's conference was titled "Umoja: Building a Community of Unity."

According to the event program, the purpose of the annual conference is three-fold: To identify potential cultural barriers, to identify alternative strategies for black students to overcome those barriers and to "develop an awareness of the need to contribute to the support and encouragement of others."

This year's schedule listed activities from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and included breakfast, guest speakers, workshops, and lunch. The event would conclude with what organizers called their "signature" forums: two simultaneous town-hall-styled sessions, during which men and women separate into adjacent lecture halls to engage in spirited public debate.

Guest speaker Elaine Brown commenced the activities over breakfast, delivering a speech to invigorate the attending students. The students could then choose two of the four available workshops to attend over the following hours. While few in number, the workshop topics were grand in scope, focusing on African-American history, spoken word poetry, a documentary produced by a participant of the 1969 Cornell University racial protest, and a lesson on utilizing wise investment techniques to stabilize the financial situation of the black community.

After the workshops, participating students enjoyed free In-N-Out burgers, while members of the SMC faculty and student government delivered speeches and raffle prizes.

In the men's discussion, the central theme was improving a personal sense of unity, specifically addressing catalysts for "brother-brother, brother-sister, or brother-other" hostility.

"The ‘black culture' is a commercial product," said facilitator Gregory Brookins, relating to the negative stereotypes hip-hop music creates. Brookins claimed that the manufactured aggression of black hip-hop stars was affecting not only how the global society sees the black community, but also how black men relate to one another.

"We're taught to be adversarial," he said, "that [aggression] identifies what it is to be a black man. It's important to understand the importance of hip hop content."

Dr. Karen Gunn, an SMC Psychology professor conducting the women's forum, asked each participant to find a complete stranger within the congregation. Gunn challenged participants to open up to one another and divulge at least "one thing that you, personally, will do to honor the sisterhood of the struggle."

The audience erupted into conversation and Gunn responded by saying, "One thing you don't seem to suffer from is silence – that's social skills 101."

Gunn charged the women to take responsibility for their individual involvement in pursuing community unity, instructing, "If you're going to talk it, walk it. If you see your sister here on campus acting crazy, you'd better check them – I'm authorizing that. I don't mean clock them, but check them."

Each woman then shared their individual goals with the rest of the class. One at a time, the women revealed their resolutions, discussing the strengths and values of the actions to which each was willing to commit. Gunn explained that this exercise had been employed in order to demonstrate the power of a single individual's contribution to creating a better social situation.

Gunn concluded the lecture by encouraging black women to seek more productive results from their community officials, especially at school.

"Find out what type of programs the faculty can institute to create these kinds of empowering opportunities," she said. ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

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