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‘Black Humanity Matters’ Educates South Florida Community On Racism

Amber Amortegui
The panel of scholars, experts, and artists gave brief lectures during the "Black Humanity Matters" webinar.

FIU’s Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment hosted a webinar titled “Black Humanity Matters: A Teach-In On The Crisis Of Race In America” Thursday via Zoom. 

The event featured lectures from scholars, experts, and artists in fields including media, linguistics, culture, literature, sports, and African and African Diaspora studies.

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Phillip Carter is the director of FIU’s Center for the Humanities in an Urban Environment (CHUE), which organized the event. The idea of hosting a webinar focused on racism came after CHUE heard from Black colleagues and students about how racial violence affects them.

“The cultural moment, the political moment is one in which we were able to create space to amplify those voices,” Carter said. “They told us, ‘This hurts,’ so we have to honor that.”

Carter says they organized the webinar in less than a week, and all the guest speakers they invited were eager to participate.

The panelists included FIU faculty members Andrea Queeley, Dr. Donna Weir-Soley, Dr. Ana Luszczynska, and Valerie Patterson. 

Viewers also heard lectures from Dr. Shawn Christian (Wheaton College), Dr. Renée Blake (New York University), Dr. Kimberly Moffitt (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), and NFL free agent Ryan Russell.

The webinar explored how racial injustices, whether hate crimes or microaggressions, have impacted several areas of the Black community throughout American history. 

Christian, an African American literature professor, spoke about how the killing of George Floyd and the murder of Emmett Till, a Black teenager who was mutilated and lynched by white men in 1955, are not only gruesome realities that millions of Americans witnessed, but they’re only a partial representation of the countless racial violence victims.

Credit Amber Amortegui / WLRN
Dr. Shawn Christian of Wheaton College discussed the recent comparisons of Emmett Till and George Floyd.

“Each death, each body, each life, each face, each name — from Breonna Taylor to Tamir Rice — is also its own history demanding that the people witness,” Christian said. 

Blake, a linguistics professor at NYU, noted that the ways Black people communicate go beyond the words they speak. It entails nonverbal gestures of expression that are typically considered secondary forms of communication. Blake wants to “bring the body back to language.”

“We should not separate the Black body from spoken language. It is part of the root system of African-American language,” Blake said.

Russell discussed how sports culture and Black culture come with their own identities. Over time he realized it’s possible to embrace being a Black, bisexual, professional athlete without having to neglect his own characteristics. Russell concluded by reading an original poem about the dehumanization he felt as a Black athlete playing in the NFL.

“Do not cry mother, for football is not war because I chose this path that averted me from the slums. Sweat filled my eyes better than tears. A belly of blood was full at last. Grass fields I wish I could die on over the streets that claimed young lives,” Russell read.

Credit Amber Amortegui / WLRN
Advocate and NFL player Ryan Russell read his poem about the dehumanization he felt as a black, professional football player.

Luszczynska, a chairperson of FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education, lectured on what being an anti-racist ally looks like. 

“We can educate ourselves,” Luszczynska said. “We can read. We can listen. We can learn. We can do active research and learning on the history and on the racist foundations of this country as well as the current ways in which racism takes place.”

CHUE says about 800 people attended the virtual event on Zoom and Facebook Live.

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