Roughly 550 students flocked to campus this weekend to participate in Yale’s 18th Annual Black Solidarity Conference, which centered around activism in the modern era.
The conference, which concluded with a celebration at the Omni Hotel Saturday night, included several events throughout Friday and Saturday such as panels on education and virtual activism, a professional networking career fair and a concert at Toad’s. Marc Morial, the keynote speaker and current president of the civil rights advocacy group the National Urban League, discussed the economic and political issues facing young African Americans today.
“The objective is not a post-racial America”, Morial said. “It is a post-racist America, a multicultural America.”
Morial traced the ways in which several major events in U.S. history from 1863 to the present related to African-American identity, such as the imprisonment of Martin Luther King Jr., the Great Depression, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the re-election of President Barack Obama. He said the questions raised by these historical events are relevant to today’s younger African-American generation because they show a “tragedy and triumph of black and brown youth.”
Morial outlined several challenges that present-day African-American youth must address, including poverty, income, globalization and the new concept of diversity. He said the strength of the United States comes from its multiculturalism, and that everyone must be proud of their origins outside of the United States. Society still needs to adapt fully to its “new diversity,” he said, adding that the change is positive because it allows ethnic nuances to emerge and the corresponding differences between races to be respected.
At a Saturday morning panel called “From the Classroom to the Community: The Importance of an Education,” six panelists spoke about the importance of teaching students about African-American history and government. The panel — which included Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway, Teach for America participant Evan Hendon, Reverend Forrest Pritchett, motivational speakers Tina and Trina Fletcher and Emmanuel Paul Sterling, a representative from the non-profit organization City Year — encouraged the students in the audience to take an active role in helping younger African-American kids at public schools through mentoring programs.
“Be that person who gets up and goes over to the school — talk to the principal, talk to the baseball coach and see if you can tutor [the] students,” Tina Fletcher said.
Fletcher said she thinks classroom education is essential to helping African-American students develop character, which will in turn reduce crime rates. All panelists agreed that the public education system in the United States needs to be reformed to foster a more constructive learning process that will motivate kids to concentrate on their studies and develop career ambitions.
Holloway said he believes the humanities and, specifically, the history of slavery are the most important subjects to teach African-American youth, because these parts of history are constantly neglected by both white and African American educators.
“So much of American History is about liberation and how awesome we are,” Holloway said, “but we can’t understand freedom if we don’t understand slavery.”
Throughout the weekend’s events, the audience — almost entirely composed of African American undergraduates — responded with claps, snaps of the fingers and words of agreement. Students interviewed at the conference said they were grateful to have the opportunity to meet with a large group of African-Americans from their own generation.
Six students said that being exposed to African-American leaders from academic and political fields was empowering because it helped them realize their own potential.
“It sounds cliché but it’s a great reminder that ‘yes we can’ do this, ‘yes we can’ actually change things,” said Maya Doig, a freshman at Middlebury College.
The BSC closed with a Black Church at Yale Morning Service on Sunday morning.
Correction: Feb. 18
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that roughly 200 students participated in the Black Solidarity Conference. In fact, around 550 students attended the conference, with over 600 students and community members present at the keynote address Saturday night.