Dr. Austin Channing-Brown, author of “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” came to campus and delivered one of the year’s most powerful speeches in the Jack H. Miller Auditorium. She began her speech with a simple phrase: it is real talk. Too many times in conversations about race, the conversation is forced, implying that the content is not entirely real. But in this talk, ChanningBrown laid out the fundamental problems that face students of color at Hope College and beyond. Hope is certainly not alone in the struggles that students of color face as they attempt to become a part of a community. She spoke a little bit about her personal experiences, such as attending a variety of private schools and the story and disconnect associated with her first name, Austin. In her stories, there was always an incorrect assumption that, based on her name, she was a white man.
This speaks to the futility of the institutions that schools similar to Hope, specifically small Christian schools, build off of, continuing to flourish on the back of a crooked system. But her conversation was in no way a indictment against every white person on campus. Rather, it served as a dialogue about fostering cooperation and unity between people of color and others. The crowd of black students included Kendall Collins-Riley (’19) and Yordanos Dessie (’19), who were also speakers, as well as Stephen Rivas (’19), Miles Pruitt (’19), Askaree Crawford (’20), Joe Wilkins (’21), Kaseline Seneca (’21), Kathleen Muloma (’19), Jubilee Jackson (’19), Tyra Hits (’19) and many others, all of whom praised Channing-Brown throughout the night. Wilkins and Seneca also sang a beautiful rendition of Micheal Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” before the keynote speech.
In the talk, Channing-Brown also discussed the need for white people to help by being allies to students of color, since solving issues of race requires the entire community to come together. As Channing-Brown spoke, students in the audience were either left speechless or were deeply engaged with the words echoing off the walls. “Dang!” remarked many of the students as Channing-Brown went into a powerful crusade on blackness, whiteness, the system that continues to construct the institution and how it needs to change. She also communicated the sentiment that many students shared: “Black students are tired of having the conversation and seeing no action on the other end. There needs to be action. There needs to be a breakthrough of students communicating with each other.”
Channing-Brown left the audience with a lot of information to process, but it was a great opportunity to have a ‘real talk.’ Having these conversations is necessary to change things in the Hope community. Kory Lafontant (’21) remarked, “It was a good speech that spoke to the daily struggles of Hope’s students of color.” Despite what some might believe, Hope is not perfect, and that needs to change. Students of color need to have not only a voice but also a rightful and comfortable place in the Hope community. Students are tired of doing the same things over and over without results. Adil Keri (’22) adds that “white privilege isn’t ‘your life is easy because you’re white.’ White privilege is ‘your life isn’t made harder because of your white skin.’” It is important to remember that everyone has their own struggles.
Channing-Brown’s presence will continue to be felt, as students everywhere will continue to take to the streets. Hopefully after this real talk, allies will continue to emerge and change. Ideally, all of the discussing will morph into concrete actions.