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Campus Forum: State of the Nation

Central Penn community discusses racial tension in America

 By Norman Geary

Media Club Reporter

Last month, Central Penn College held a campus forum in the Capital BlueCross Theatre to discuss student feelings on race relations in the nation, and recent conflicts between police and citizens, particularly between police and African-Americans.

The forum, State of the Nation, was an open discussion facilitated by Chief Diversity Officer Romeo Azondekon and Dean of Students Dave Baker.

The forum was suggested by a student.

Input from the campus community came from students, faculty, staff and administration on a range of social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement.

About 50 people attended through the two-hour session, with some coming and going as class and work schedules required. President Scolforo also attended.

“With the whole ‘Black Lives Matter’ theme, it is a very positive and touchy subject,” communications student Keith Nixon said. “We are looking to make a change in the African-American world. As we have seen around the world, innocent black people are getting killed for no reason. (People are) being asked by police officers to follow the rules and do what you’re told, and people are following the rules, and still getting shot and killed in front of their families and on tape, for no reason.”

Some history

“Ever since the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin incident, there has been no justice for the black community,” Nixon added. “I do not know why. We did not ask to be here, if you get my drift. (It’s) not just that ‘Black Lives Matter’ – all lives matter. But mainly it’s been the black lives … that have been attacked, punished and killed. For what reasons, we cannot even explain. They are on videotape and yet our lovely justice system has seemed to look the other way. I just do not understand. What more has to take place to be equal? We are all equal; no one is above anyone.”

Gina Bianchini, an entrepreneur and investor who co-founded the social-network-building firm Ning and founded the similar company Mightybell, recently wrote an article on the topic of social movements. She posted the article on LinkedIn. Her remarks fit the mood and comments expressed at the Central Penn forum.

In her article, Bianchini said: “A movement requires members to take action – showing up for hearings, calling officials or writing op-eds. When you combine these actions in a community where people are building relationships with each other in chapters, teams or classes, the power gets obvious.”

“A hashtag does not create a movement — it simply raises awareness to attract followers,” she continued. “Over the long run, follows and shares do little to produce lasting loyalty or sustain change in politics, society or business. In practice, change only happens when followers are organized, such that the most passionate among them can meet each other and coordinate action.”

IT major Darryl Morgan offered perspective.

“Black Lives Matter is a much needed movement in this country today,” Morgan said. “Reading over the foundations of the movement online, there is a good focus and a good basis with the people that created the movement. The thing they need to work on is communication and organization. There are too many outside people that are using the name of the movement and causing more derogatory actions, violent actions and taking away other people’s rights in an effort to bring this subject to light.”

Blacklivesmatter.com lists 38 chapters nationally.

Dean Baker also offered perspective during the forum.

“I thought the event was great,” Baker said afterward. “I thought students showed a lot of courage. And staff shared their point of view, so I thought it was good. I think we should do a follow-up and continue the conversations.”

What needs to be done?

Business administration major Tyree Tucker provided his take on the forum.

“It’s time to stop talking about what we are going to do and (start) talking about ways to resolve the problem,” Tucker said “It’s simply getting up and resolving the problem. It starts from within, it starts from us. We say ‘Black Lives Matter’ – it starts with us, black people. Before you try to love everybody else, we first must love ourselves in order to make a change. If not, it’s useless, so for us to do that, we must first love ourselves, which means after we love ourselves, we can love everybody else.”

Tucker offered an example of how to model meaningful behavior.

“I believe with my actions, I can be a positive impact to my surroundings. So the people that I positively influenced, they can also have a positive influence on their surroundings. We are not going to be at the same place at the same time. So by me ‘showing that love’ on that brotherhood or sisterhood, it’s going to bring everybody together and, eventually, in my surroundings. We have to start from some point. You can’t do everything at once. Start out with something small and eventually the small things lead to bigger things.”

Romeo Azondekon, Central Penn’s chief diversity officer, provided some concluding comments.

“I think the purpose of the forum allows us to move past rhetoric and agendas and move toward solution oriented approaches. I think the theme behind it was ‘unity of the campus environment,’ but also something that can transition into what is happening outside of our campus.

“One of the things that I loved was everyone was not afraid or was open to sharing perspectives and actually hearing each other out. I think with what is going on in our society right now, not enough of us are being heard, or that we are being heard with the ear of resentment and disagreement. There is not a lot of love and embracing.”

Must we all agree?

“To embrace someone does not mean you have to agree with them, but you have to take their plight or their position as valid,” Azondekon said. “And I think that is what people are looking for. Yes, it was a good event, in my eyes.

“I was looking for a little more dialogue, but really feel, in summation, it exemplifies, again, keeping our campus intact, and not being afraid to have the conversation. Because a lot of college and universities would have avoided that kind of forum pretty quickly. But it shows where we are at as a college, which values diversity and inclusion at Central Penn College. We know a lot of these issues circle around that, one way or another.”

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