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Social justice panelist says blacks want seat at table

By Cheryl Daniel, Online editor
On March 15, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (February 1, 2019) – The real issue for African Americans is getting fair treatment, being able to sit at the table where decisions are made and make their opinions known, according to a panelist at Dillard’s Criminal Justice Seminar Symposium of Scholars on Jan. 26.

Dr. Melba Venison, a board member of the National Association of Multi-Cultural Education, was one of four panelists speaking at the noon session in Georges Auditorium, which was attended by about 30 people. All of the panelists were connected to the St. Joseph Spirituality Center in Baton Rouge.

Venison said there’s a more important issue than whether the words “black” or “African American” is used: “The issue isn’t whether or not we are called black or a bottle of water; the real question is how we are being integrated into our country.”

A dozen other talks, related to justice issues such as medical consent, ambiguity in justice, environmental racism and disgraced comedian Bill Cosby and the #MeToo Movement, also were held during the daylong meeting, along with poster sessions in the afternoon.

Speaking with Venison on the panel on the subject “Word and Deed: Fighting Racism in the Midst of Tragedy” were Dianne Hanley, executive director of the center; Dr. Henrynne Louden, a pediatrician; and Kari Canizaro, a Catholic high school teacher and board member at St. Joseph.

Hanley said the idea behind “Word and Deed” is to bring spirituality to safe spaces for people to discuss injustices. On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling, died at the hands of a white police officer in Baton Rouge. The incident became their first topic of discussion.

As she described the first meeting, “If we hadn’t talked about it here [the Spirituality Center], we would not be in the right place. This is the right place to do this.”

She charged the audience to stand up for your beliefs: “If you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.”

Canizaro gave an example of a classroom incident involving a racially motivated conversation among students, and a member from the audience asked, “How do you respond to a student when they do say something that is racially motivated?”

Louden said: “Courage – it takes courage. It is never easy, but we know what is wrong…If you do not say anything, you are giving [the person] voice and permission.”

The St. Joseph Spirituality Center’s core mission includes collaborating with others to change societal systems that cause injustice, oppression and poverty; bringing about a more just and peaceful world; and transforming the culture of power, privilege and violence into a culture that is inclusive, embraces diversity and welcomes the gifts of all.

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