Connecticut Forum’s ‘Racism’ Discussion Tackles Timely Issues at Sold-Out Bushnell

Trinity Students Take Part in Roundtable with Panelists before Main Event

Hartford, Connecticut, December 10, 2015 – Trinity College students, staff, and faculty members were part of the sold-out crowd at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Hartford at the recent Connecticut Forum event, simply titled “Racism.” Trinity is among the Forum’s Education Partners, which support open dialogue, lifelong learning, and the free and active exchange of ideas.

The on-stage discussion December 3 featured panelists engaged in frank talk about issues of race and racism in America. Following a brief Black Lives Matter protest in the audience, moderator Michele Norris – a journalist and NPR host – said, “What I want to do tonight is not talk at each other, but to each other. We want to have a dialogue.”

​Moderator Michele Norris guided the dialogue amongst panelists Morris Dees, Antonio Villaraigosa, Jessica Williams, and Wes Moore.
The panelists were: former two-term mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa; writer, actress, and comedian Jessica Williams; long-time civil rights activist Morris Dees; and veteran, Rhodes Scholar, and social justice advocate Wes Moore. The contributors shared personal stories and offered thoughts on what can be done to improve equity and encourage more understanding. Local students including Trinity’s Courtney A. Roach ’16 and Adachi I. Ogbenna ’16 had the opportunity to meet the panelists at a student roundtable discussion before the Forum.

Villaraigosa, who oversaw the revitalization of downtown L.A., said during the Forum that discrimination of any kind is “a cancer that’s eating our country up. … People want to say, ‘All lives matter,’ but when black men are incarcerated eight times more than the rest of us, what does that say about us?” He supports policies like universal preschool to invest directly in people and communities.

​Panelist Morris Dees speaks with Connecticut Forum Executive Director Doris Sugarman and Trinity students Adachi I. Ogbenna ’16 and Courtney A. Roach ’16 before the evening’s main event.
Williams – a correspondent for The Daily Show on Comedy Central – shared a story about her mother’s response to what Williams called her “average” grades in school: “There are people who don’t look like you who will get more than you by doing average work, so you will never do average work!” her mother told her. Williams also said she felt uncomfortable during the protest at the beginning of the Forum. “It’s a weird experience to be someone who supports Black Lives Matter and then be yelled at,” she said. “There’s a place for that, but we could’ve done that later.”

Dees – co-founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center – warned about the danger of online hate groups. “The problem with our government is they’ve been too focused on foreign terror groups and not domestic terror groups,” he said. When talking about the importance of equality, Dees said, “We won’t individually prosper unless everybody prospers.”

Moore – acclaimed author of The Other Wes Moore – talked about how the term “post-racial America” was quickly embraced around the time of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. “I don’t want to exist in a post-racial America. I’m not ashamed of my race. I want to exist in a post-racist America,” he said. Moore wants to encourage more inclusive conversations like this one. “Appreciate where the other person is coming from; that’s how we get growth,” he said.

​Bolton High School student Lexi Frame.  Photos by Nick Caito Photography, courtesy of the Connecticut Forum.
Lexi Frame, a Bolton High School student from Bolton, Conn., addressed the crowd briefly to speak about the Connecticut Youth Forum. Frame was one of more than 50 high school students who gathered on the Trinity College campus the previous morning to discuss racism as part of the Connecticut Youth Forum.

Connecticut Forum events are live, unscripted conversations among renowned experts and celebrities. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to encourage the free and active exchange of ideas in forums that inform, challenge, entertain, inspire, and build bridges among all people and organizations in the community.

The upcoming Connecticut Forum events of the 2015-2016 season are:

March 5, 2016: The Science of Our Minds: Inside Our Amazing Brains

May 13, 2016: Creative Artists: An Evening of Storytellers, Creators, and Entertainers

For details on the upcoming events and for more information on the Connecticut Forum, visit the Connecticut Forum website.

Written by Andrew J. Concatelli