Race & Hate Crimes in America Forum, FAU’s Agora Project Opens the Discussion

Jillian Melero

The Agora Project is FAU’s newest forum where students can let their voices be heard.

 

One hundred thirty people settled into the Office Depot Grand Lecture Hall, Room BU 120, on Tuesday night to talk about race. They spoke from their own experiences, as teachers, students and parents.

They spoke about defensiveness in the race conversation, racial color blindness and what the reality of our “post-racial” America is.

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The race and hate crimes in America forum was the inaugural event of FAU’s Agora Project. Agora is a reference to an ancient Greek practice where the people would gather in the open market to discuss social issues and politics.

In this same spirit, FAU’s Agora Project will host a series of events, forums and debates designed to involve the student body in civil discussion and civic engagement

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Tuesday night’s race and hate crime forum was centered on the Florida premier of a new documentary: “Hate Crimes in the Heartland” by Rachel Lyon and Pi-Isis Ankhra.

The documentary focuses on Tulsa, Oklahoma and two specific incidents of hate crime within the city’s history.

The first is the Tulsa race riot of 1921, which resulted in complete destruction of a thriving African-American community of Greenwood, nicknamed Black Wall Street.

Nearly 90 years later in 2012 came the Good Friday murders, a shooting spree in which two men shot five individuals, all black, killing three of them.

 “The film uses Tulsa to frame the wider picture of how we talk about race—and do we not talk about it enough?” said Graham Brown, president of FAU’s Dream Defenders.

 The documentary brings to the forefront the reluctance that many people have in discussing race. The idea that talking about it will only make it worse, or the notion that not hearing about it, means there isn’t really a problem.

 During the post film discussion, Lyon points out a memorable quote which occurs early on during a man on the street interview, “I think race relations are good here, although if I were black I probably wouldn’t think so.”

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Lyon and Brown were two of the panelists selected to open the discussion.

The panel also featured Pablo del Real, community organizer; Christopher Strain, professor of history at FAU; and Rhonda Swan, editor and columnist for the Palm Beach Post.

 Professor Strain put the term “hate crime” into its legal context—a criminal offense motivated by difference between the perpetrator and the victim. But, this covers broad territory. More often than not the term hate crime can be a misnomer because, as Strain said, “emotion may or may not relate to the crime at all.”

The panel also discussed the new direction of activism, utilizing modern technology and social media.

For example, after the film, the audience of “Hate Crimes in the Heartland” was invited to record an interview segment with their own thoughts and observations on the discussion of race.

They were also encouraged to continue the discussion through the films dedicated online forums: hatecrimesheartland.com, twitter and facebook.

Despite the  technological and social advances, panelists and audience members alike shared the challenges they’ve faced when discussing race.

According to Swan, in some cases, it’s less about talking and more about listening.

“People just need to learn to listen. Most people listen to respond when what they should do is listen to understand.”

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Dr. William Trapani is the director of the Agora Project.

In discussing the Agoras upcoming events and forums, Trapani says that one of the biggest reactions he gets from people is the palpable excitement that is felt when they understand that someone is listening.

“People appreciate that they’re being heard,” says Trapani.

And for Trapani, allowing people the chance to be heard was the greatest achievement of the evening.

“The highlight I think was during the discussion, when the floor opened up, and the room started talking to each other. For me, that makes tonight an unqualified success.”

To learn more about the Agora Project’s upcoming forums and events, visit fau.edu/agora