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Building bridges: Anti-racism activist visits

Oct. 19, 2007
By Katie Quaranta and Linda Lockhart

Anti-racism organizer Mandy Carter engaged campus groups Thursday on issues of social justice and encouraged dialogue about the difficult subjects of race, gender, class and sexual orientation.

Carter, of Durham, N.C., is an African-American activist and community organizer committed to human rights advocacy and social justice. She is co-founder and past executive director of Southerners On New Ground, which develops models of organizing that connect race, class, culture, gender and sexual identity. She also is a founding board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, a national civil rights organization. In 2005, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the "1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005."

"Racism is tough, and people don't know how to talk about it," said Melissa Wales of the UCM Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice. Wales said the center spearheaded the effort to bring Carter to campus in an ongoing effort to curb intolerance and create opportunities for dialogue.

At a small brownbag session held at UCM, Carter's eyes welled with tears as she recounted her experience when the Ku Klux Klan came to Durham in the 1980s. Aware of the upcoming visit, Carter was among leaders who formed a coalition among separate communities that were targets of the KKK -- communities that she said didn't traditionally get along -- to stand united in a silent protest against the Klan.

"Sometimes in diversity and in adversity, you come together to have a conversation you wouldn't have otherwise had," Carter said.

She also told the story of her first "race in my face" incident as a high school student.

"We raise the question (of racism) through personal stories," she said, explaining there are two prongs to fighting social injustice:  using hearts and minds to change feelings, and changing public policies that guarantee rights.

These issues and the importance of working together were themes during an evening lecture in Baker University Center Ballroom. Speaking to an audience of more than 100 students, faculty and community members, she recounted her experiences with fighting intolerance and stressed the importance of recognizing the deep ties that unite all struggles for equality.

"They connect so much to each other that it is hard to separate them," she said. "Equality and justice for all means just that."

Opening the floor to discussion, Carter listened and commented on audience members' concerns and questions, many surrounding recent allegations of bias and racism on campus and in The Post. During the lively dialogue, the conversation also touched on institutional biases, Hurricane Katrina, political correctness and the inherent difficulty of building bridges instead of putting up barriers. 

Recent incidents on campus have brought the need for a discussion on racism to the forefront.

Prior to Carter's lecture, Latino Student Union President Ashley Diaz spoke of campus concerns about a controversial Post column about immigration.

"I think it is important to have activists like Mandy Carter come here and help us with this dialogue," she said.

Carter discouraged potential activists from being disheartened by roadblocks, stressing that real change requires time and patience.

"For the cynics in the room, and sometimes I can be one, don't give up," she said. "There have been enough examples of struggle to know that (change) is possible."

Carter stressed that common issues -- jobs, health care, education and housing, for instance -- often are the impetus for seemingly unrelated activist groups to join together and, as a result, begin serious conversations about topics such as religion, racism and homophobia. Citing Habitat for Humanity as a prime example of an organization that unites diverse groups, Carter encouraged the organizations that sponsored her visit to find ways to collaborate on a regular basis and work together to fight injustice in the community.

"Can't these same groups figure out some way to do some common work?" she said.

Along with UCM, sponsors of Carter's visit included Teach for America and the following from Ohio University: African Studies; African American Studies; Center for International Studies  Communication and Development Studies; Social Work; International Development Studies; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center; Multicultural Programs Center; Southeast Asia Studies; Women's Center; and Women's Studies.

Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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