Last Tuesday, February 23rd, an audience of over one hundred Stockton students and faculty forwent their comfort zones to have some difficult discussions regarding race. To begin the conversation, Director of Academic Achievement Programs Nordia Johnson gave introductions, followed by a video collaboration to paint the scope of what led to the development of this series. In the video, members of the university and professionals from outside the community explained their experiences with racism, and recognized the events that led to the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.
They gave painful testimonies about the reality of race relations in the United States, adding stories of their own personal exposure to racism early on in their lives. Breakout sessions to host some questions from the large attendance were held prior to the culmination of this event. Many were able to address more personal concerns with the topic, and discuss things they felt uncomfortable with or needed more clarity on.
Additionally, social experts from both in and outside of the Stockton community explained how black children are often denied nativity as a safety mechanism. They discussed the dilemma of the misomer of “black innocence.” The term misomer is applied because, according to speaker Dr. Angie Gray, black childhoods are often exposed to harsher aspects of reality.
In regards to black innocence, Director of Residential Education and Student Services Marques Johnson explained in the film, “There is no such thing as black innocence…black innocence is something that we don’t get the comfort of recognizing or experiencing.” The video explained how this was proven through bounties of research and the experiences of members in the Stockton community.
Offering more live input on the severity of this issue, Stockton students in the audience shared their vulnerability and explained some of their experiences with losing their childhood innocence due to prejudice. They did so through personal accounts throughout the presentation, retelling experiences with violence, hypersexualization, negative perceptions of peers, and police brutality.
After these stories were shared, speakers provided the historical and social context for these black childhood dynamics.
Dr. Ayo Gooden, Licensed psychologist and specialist of psychology and development, gave a history lesson in both black trauma and excellence. She describes social mechanisms developed by black communities to combat the unique threats they face, such as her coined “Melanic Survivor Identity Syndrome”, which is when black people are taught to reject their blackness to assimilate within anti-black societies.
This topic was further defined and explored by Dr. Angie Gray, an empowerment coach who described the process that black children are desensitized for their survival. She placed emphasis on the need for intuition, discipline, and increased caution in their childhoods compared to white counterparts.
To make this event a true dialogue, brief Q and A sessions were opened up in between the speakers’ presentations to address the concerns of attendees.
Near the end of this session, Baptist Preacher John Gray gave an empowering speech about how despite innocence being lost, resilience can be developed into black excellence through “flipping the script”. Stockton’s own V.P. of Student Affairs, Dr. Catching, advised how to move forward from this discussion, as students, as parents, and as members of a progressive community. He tasks the community with properly educating themselves and their peers on black identities and the unique problems they face, as well as continually reflecting on institutional practices to make sure they are serving to uplift these marginalized voices in progressing ahead.
As the first edition of this four part series, there is much more to be explored on the topic of Black Lives Matter. For those questioning any part of the movement, or seeking learn about conflicts faced by black Americans, subsequent sessions will be held through zoom on March 8th, March 24th, and April 15th.
For information on this series and access to these sessions: https://stockton.edu/academic-achievement/