Welcome to the conversation!

Welcome to the conversation!

Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) best-selling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), made her the most famous American woman of the 19th century and galvanized the abolition movement before the Civil War.

The Stowe Center is a 21st-century museum and program center using Stowe's story to inspire social justice and positive change.

The Salons at Stowe programs are a forum to connect the challenging issues (race, gender and class) that impelled Stowe to write and act with the contemporary face of those same issues. The Salon format is based on a robust level of audience participation, with the explicit goal of promoting civic engagement. Recent topics included: Teaching Acceptance; Is Prison the New Slavery; Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North; Creativity and Change; Race, Gender and Politics Today; How to be an Advocate

This blog will expand the reach of these community conversations to the online audience. Add your posts and comments to keep the conversation going! Commit to action by clicking HERE to stay up to date on Salon and social justice news.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

#SalonsatStowe Event Recap: Has Racial Inequality Reached the Tipping Point?

Has Racial Inequality Reached the Tipping Point?  

January 22, 2015
Transcript of program 

Katherine Kane, Executive Director Stowe Center:
Hello everyone and welcome to the first Salon of 2015. Salons at Stowe is an ongoing series about contemporary issues.  We don’t just talk about the issues, we find ways to solve them. And tonight, we are very lucky to have CTN here and filming the event.
This Salon-Has Racial Inequality Reached the Tipping Point is about headlines. Like this headline right here: “U.S. Not Expected to Fault Officer in Ferguson Case”.
This week is an important week to be talking about these issues. We started with MLK day. We had an open house and we had people wait all year to come to the Stowe House on MLK day to connect what Dr. King did to what Stowe did. Tonight we hope to generate those same connections, between Stowe and the present day. 

Before we begin, we have a series of upcoming programs that we hope you will join us for.

Our next Salon is Feb. 19th at 5:00 pm -Color of Justice, film and talk-back
Feb 25th at 7:00 pm Author Event:  Houses of Civil War
March 5th Nell Bernstein The End to Juvenile Prison
March 26th Is the ERA worth passing or Feminism: The Other F Word? Susan Campbell will moderate.
June 4th Stowe Prize honoring a contemporary writer who promotes justice in their works 

Tonight we are joined by three very important guests who share their stories and hopefully inspire you to take action.

Reverend Henry Brown is the founder of Mothers United Against Violence, a grassroots organization dedicated to preventing violence and advocating for community safety. A survivor of gun violence, Rev. Brown founded the organization in 2003 after growing tired of the growing acts of violence in Hartford and Connecticut. Rev. Brown leverages his community advocacy with spiritual work as well. He graduated from the Hartford Seminary in 2006 and was ordained by the Heart of God church in 2007.

Henrietta Beckman is the President of Mothers United Against Violence. Beckman helped found the organization after her son was killed by gun violence in 2002. As President, Henrietta is an outspoken advocate for community safety, victim’s families, and violence prevention. She works closely with Rev. Brown to deliver presentations, host community events, and honor those who have lost their lives to violence.    

Aswad Thomas is a second year Masters of Social Work student with a concentration in Community Organizing and focused area of study in Urban Issues at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Aswad received a BA in Business Management from Elms College in 2009, where he led the Men’s basketball team to the school’s first-ever victory in the NCAA Division III Championship.  His life soon took a different path, after he suffered near-fatal injuries from two bullets to his back in the north-end of Hartford.
Since his recovery, Aswad has been one of Hartford’s most outspoken opponents of gang violence the past several years. He has shared his story at the Harvard Law School speaker series, with legislators at Capitol Hill, and throughout Hartford.  He is the founder of Hartford Action, a group dedicated to seeking justice on issues of police accountability and community safety. 

Who is going to begin?

Rev. Henry Brown:  
I guess, I’ll start-seniority. I’m very blunt and outspoken. I was raised in racism. I grew up in rural Georgia and racism was all around me. I threw a stick at a tracker-trailer once that was running off the highway-I was ten. An hour later I had 25 white people at my door looking for that “little nigger” boy and came to my house and they put me in jail at 10 years old. They chained me up at 10 years old. My father came and got me and he was so submissive and at that time I didn’t understand why. I thought “why is he acting like that?” He should be angry. I didn’t understand at that time why he had to be like that.  And at that point I became committed against fighting this.

In 1970s, I was a victim of gun violence, the day after I returned from the military. I got shot in the chest and was angry, so angry. I left and went to New Orleans and then came to Hartford, CT. Got a ticket, came up to Hartford, and it was a little different. Was colder for sure. I worked as an EMT up here, and then I landed a big job at Pratt and Whitney. Was not yet in violent prevention work, was more interested in myself and living for myself. Then 4 years later, Pratt and Whitney had a layoff, and went back to work for the Federal Government, worked for the Postal Service for 14 years. I was not as I said before, working for anything else, for a greater purpose, I was living for myself, thought nobody cared about me anyway, so that’s just what I was going to do.

And then in 2001 on July 5th Takira Gaston was shot. The next morning, after the little girl was shot, I saw that little girl’s face and I couldn’t control myself. I thought “you’re running around feeling sorry for yourself” and look at this little girl’s face. This is when my life started to change.  

Larry Woods my mentor. We worked together to find Hopestreet Ministry. We focused on drug dealers and trying to get them off the streets, but the one thing we didn’t realize was these people were put in this position to survive. If you’re a black person in the inner-city, you don’t have other opportunities, besides drug dealing. You know what? That’s the wrong message.

At one point, Hopestreet Ministry decided they wanted to become more proactive, they were saying we were reactive. Then one day there was a shooting on Planar street. They told me not to go and I went. And I didn’t know anything about preaching. I got a bible out of my car and read a passage. There were many people there from the community listening and wanting to do something. I thought that there’s hope in a system that has condemned people to failure. Our youth and our families are entrapped in racism and we need to act. So I went back to the mission, and said we need to do something.
There eventually was a separation from Hopestreet Ministry and then I founded Mothers United Against Violence, with mothers, like Henrietta Beckman, who had lost children to violence.

 People look at the young men pulling the trigger, but they are victims too. Don’t blame our youth, don’t blame our kids, change that perception-that’s what we try to do with Mothers United Against Violence. We do marches and do rallies and show  people about our communities. 

Katherine Kane:
So what can these people do?  

Rev. Brown:
Come to our meetings, every first Monday-285 Church Street. It’s all about humanity, it’s not about hating people. If we say there’s no hatred in the world, we’re lying. I have hope though. The youth today are not like the youth 20-30 years ago. I think they get along better, then we did. I think a lot of older people still have traces of racism in them. The younger people do not.   

We need to talk more and talk to each other. The only time we talk about MLK is in January and April-why don’t we talk about it everyday? We all know what the problem is? We all know the cop is not innocent. Grand jury finds no fault to commit. You got to understand what these people are crying out for.
In Hartford, we had a young person who was tased. I told the Police Chief that was wrong. Young boy in Cleveland-that was a drive by killing. These are the things that we have to change. As long as people support the police that kill kids, things won’t change. Bad cops run the police. We can’t change because we are so blinded by race. We need to change our perception of how we look at another human being.

Henrietta Beckman:
After that I am speechless. I don’t know how to follow that.
I got involved because my son Randy was killed. Violence has always been a way of life in our neighborhood. We teach children how to be respectful. I instilled all these good values in my children, and he still became a victim of violence. A lot of the black children feel that they are inferior to white children, they might not always realize it, but they feel it. We are all brothers and sisters, all human beings. I was a para for 13 years, and I would say to the students, no matter what their race, you could be anything you want to be. There was one girl, who came to me, crying, after a girl told her didn’t want to be her friend because she didn’t like black people. I went over to the girl and said Ms. B is black, how do you not like black people? That behavior comes from home. It doesn’t matter what race you are, we are all people. I became President of Mothers United Against Violence, not by choice, but we need to do something about violence in our community. We need to do something about the violence in music, violence on TV. We need to try to put things they way that they should be. 

Aswad Thomas:
Thank you to Stowe Center for having me. And thanks to Rev. Brown and Henrietta. It’s a blessing for me to still be here and walking. I was born in Hartford and then moved to Detroit. I had the perspective of seeing two cities. Both cities were poverty stricken communities. Back in the 80s, and are still poverty stricken. I had a friend we would play basketball, and hang out like all kids do. We would talk about sports and we dreamed of going to the NBA.  And at 10 years old, I lost him to violence. He was killed in a drive by-shooting. He wasn’t able to fulfill those dreams of his. Growing up in Detroit, I saw all the negative things in the community. Whenever I heard a gun shoot I would lay on the floor, we were trained to do that.

I decided that I was going to use my education and my basketball skills, to take me out of my neighborhood. I got to travel all around playing basketball. It gave me opportunities that my friends didn’t have. Most of my friends today are dead or in jail.

I decided at an early age I wanted to go to college. I studied hard and I tried to get my friends to do the same thing, but they couldn’t get it. They had too many negative influences.

I went to Elms College and played basketball. Being the first male in the family to ever graduate from college, it’s important for me and important for my family. I graduated, first male in my family to graduate from college. When I graduated, I was offered a contract to play basketball oversees. I was accomplishing a dream of mine to play basketball and travel the world.

Then just two weeks before I left to go play basketball, I became a victim of the cycle of urban violence. I was shot 2 times in the back in Hartford, when I was walking home. I remember waking up on the concrete; I couldn’t feel my body, couldn’t feel my arms. Then the thought went through my mind and I realized I got shot. I used all the strength to crawl to the corner store. I yelled to the man at the register to call the ambulance. I lost consciousness, and remember waking back up in the ambulance, and I wanted to stay alert.  I kept saying “I don’t want to die” and then the ambulance nurse told me after the 40th time, she told me to shut up and that I was not going to die on her watch.

My eyes were open and I could still see everything in the hospital. They were putting needles and drugs in me and I remember the nurse said “give him more Propofol” and I smiled to myself because Michael Jackson was my favorite artist. That was the drug that killed MJ.

I woke up and looked at my mom’s face, father, they’re all crying and I couldn’t talk. I was still confused, and was wondering why I got shot. I did all the things good kids are supposed to do. My first thoughts were would I play basketball again and my second was would I ever walk again. I could have been dead or paralyzed. When I got out of the hospital, I realized I was going to stand up for my community.

Rev. Brown was there for me throughout my whole recovery process. We went down to Capitol Hill, Harvard Law School. I know work sometimes as a motivational speaker. Now I go to Uconn, for Social Work. My background is in business, but I always liked working with people. I wanted to do something. I’m a young black male, I’ve lost too many friends and I wanted to do something.

I remember being in Tennessee with my girlfriend for Thanksgiving, and remember that’s when they had the announcement that there would be no indictment for Darren Wilson. And I called back to my friends in Hartford.  We wanted to do something to empower and inspire, right here in CT. December 6th, down Albany street, something that hasn’t been done in Hartford in 30 years. The youth that were here were powerful, and we have to keep doing things. I can tell you everyone here can make a difference, if you care about your community. You never know the small things that you can do for your community.  

I was the convocation speaker at Elms College and I do work to try to inspire young people, empower people, and stand up for our communities.

I’ve been thinking about the question for tonight: has racial inequality reached the tipping point? I was up all night thinking about it. And I say no, we haven’t reached our tipping point yet. Here in CT though, we have the largest economic inequality in the country. Hartford, New Haven are some of the most dangerous cities in the U.S.  We have mass incarceration in this country. It costs more money to imprison someone than to educate them, but we focus on imprisoning people.

Hartford, CT can be a model for change in the country. We can come together to make changes. We haven’t had a Mike Brown incident here, but we could tomorrow.

Rev. Henry Brown:
We did have an incident here in 2006. A police officer said he felt threatened and killed an unarmed man. There was an all-white jury, no indictment. He is walking free today.

Aswad Thomas, I am so proud of you. You are the hope we have for the community. When I got shot I reacted different. I remember when I got home from the military, my mother took my gun and I let her take it. And then I got shot. After I got shot, people were saying you got to go to the hospital. I was telling them no, I’m not going to the hospital. I remember it was a really raining night and we drove to the hospital. I was so angry the entire way there.  I got to the hospital and was really angry. And then this beautiful white nurse came over to me, I’ll always remember her face, and she asked me if I was alright. I said “Hell no, I’m not alright.” And she says I have something for you. She gave me a pinch in the neck, and everything was white, and then I woke up. Nurse said I was out for three weeks. Had me all drugged up, was feeling no pain. Thought they were going to give me fluid, and they gave me a needle. Every time that needle was stuck in me, I was enraged. I was angry after what had happened to me.

We have so many black people in this situation. We can change it, what are you all going to do to help us?

Audience member:
Just want to say first, that those are three inspiring stories. I would not believe, that those were part of the stories you would tell. I’m 74 and I don’t think I know 15 people that have died yet. It says a lot that we left communities to poverty, violence. I read these two stories in the Hartford Courant today…Did you know Greater Hartford is the richest community in the world? The income levels are about $70,000 less than Fairfield, but corporate wealth here is so big. There are a lot of disparities.

The next story comes from a with a  lot of history of violence. There was a young Palestinian who stabbed 13 people, and a police officer shot him in the foot. Just shot him in the foot and did not need to kill him.

Rev. Brown:
That’s amazing.

Katherine Kane (to audience member):
Are you also suggesting that there are resources here?

Audience member:
We do have resources. Need more people like Aswad and Rev. Brown to go into comfortable communities. I saw this in The Nation today; the typical Black person lives in a community that is 35% white, white people live in communities that are 75% white. The problem is one of invisibility.

Rev. Brown:
We all know the story of Newtown. Awful situation-we don’t want that for anybody’s children. But when that happened, the were so many resources that poured in after that happened. We had 400 people killed in Hartford. We had people in Hartford, mothers who couldn’t bury their children, begging for money.
In Hartford the city raised money for Newtown, but not one dime of that money went to Hartford and for the mothers here that were grieving. That broke my heart, not for me, but for our children.

Audience Member:
Aswad, what were the circumstances of you being shot?

Aswad Thomas:
Attempted robbery. Two individuals we guns approached me. I decided I was going to fight. We had a tussle, and then I was shot. But that split decision to fight, was what saved my life.

The individuals that shot me, one was 17 and one was 18 years. To hear the ages of the individuals that shot me, I felt bad for me, but felt bad for them too. That they had to rob someone to get money, to eat. That was what they had to do in their communities. To be 17 or 18 and try to rob someone and end up shooting me. We have to challenge people and find solutions and make a change.

Audience member:
One of the points you made, Rev. You said you would like us to help. I would like to know more about that. We are always saying we have to help ourselves. I know, speaking about my own point of you, we need others to help. I believe a lot of that help needs to come form the community, from the black community.

Rev. Brown:
What I tell people, is that if you don’t do anything, no one outside the community is going to do something. What happened last night, when the package store worker was killed. We should have a bunch of people out there. But if we’re not there, no one from the outside will be there. That’s what Mothers United Against Violence does. We are going out, to do something. No one is going to ride in to our community on a white horse and save us. I believe that if your effort is about humanity, if you help somebody than that is good enough.

People are concerned with logistics and that they need to know where their money is going to help out. Why do you have to use logistics, why does it matter if you don’t have a 501c3?  When we started Mothers United Against I was using my own pocket. I think that it doesn’t matter about money as long as you care.

I look around this room, I see a diverse crowd, but more white people. I talked with Aswad about this, we need to do more, be out there more. When are you going to say, I’m tired of being fearful and am going to fight back? I’m empowering our people to stand up for themselves. When you see people in Hartford getting shot, getting stabbed, and we don’t do anything. So I would like to see, even if you’re doing your own thing, be vigilant and have a message, have a voice. You’re showing others that I have power, I have a voice. We can’t keep talking about it and do nothing- we have to do more.

Aswad Thomas:
When you look at the Civil Rights movement, it wasn’t just black people. If you’ve seen Selma, white people were involved too. If you have some people who can come into the community and give hope, can change people’s lives. I founded Hartford Action looking to strengthen the community and argue for progressive policies in regards to criminal justice reform. Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, we need to cross that line. Take these stories with you and take them to your homes and into your lives.

Audience member:
Thank you for sharing your stories. I just have a few issues to raise about policy. I work in policy. You need to see how guns arrived in community, how they were brought into the community. Police have quotas. My son, similar to Aswad, was a victim of police quotas. My son wasn’t wearing a seat-belt. He got pulled over, said they found cocaine residue on the license. They cuffed him, brought him in. They released him and dropped charges. They took his license though. My son was a good kid, never missed a day, and he was released because he had people backing him. We need to look at policies. And sometimes police are victims as they are just following policies. We need to focus on changing some of the policies- people need to go and vote.

Rev. Brown:
I’m glad you said that. We are involved with the Hartford police station on Courageous Community Policing. A lot of young people don’t understand the policies. A lot of young people don’t know that if you get caught without a license that’s your first time in the system.

We don’t bring guns in the community. If we’re going to do anything, we need to ask where are the guns/drugs are coming from?

Audience member:
To the gentleman who asked the young man about circumstances, would you have asked someone who was white that question?

Audience member:

Audience member:
I think about talking about self love and how can you ask for an angel in a white horse to be a savior. How can you have self-love if you’ve never experienced love? A lot of young people in the community, grow up in not of the best situations. If you have privilege you need to extend it. Extension of privilege, go into community and help out.

We have a lack of compassion. We say oh “he probably was a drug dealer.” With Newtown we said “why did they do that, they were so innocent.” And they were, but no one deserves to have this happen to them. Go outside your community and just listen.

Audience member:
This follows nicely, with what the young lady just said. I went to the march and we need to do something now. White people need to do something. Get to know your fellow man, and you will be a changed person. I was very impacted by Newtown as a retired teacher. We were talking, talking with fellow teachers, and we said what about Hartford? We started a group called Step Up, Step Out, which is all about getting out of your comfort zone. Yes, I grew up with prejudice. I saw things that weren’t right. I am passionate about making our country a place we are proud of.
We see things that our wrong and we need to do something. We need to get rid of the guns. Go to the schools. Make a difference. Don’t just go home and do nothing.  Do something tomorrow.

Katherine Kane:
Who will do something tonight?

Audience Member:
We haven’t reached a tipping point. But we can get there. There is no biological differences between races. We have to clean up our language. Is there racism? I hear it, it’s out there. We’re not black or white, we don’t have race. We’re all us.

Audience member:
We were talking about education and I want to go back to that. My daughter is a CREC student. They’ve been talking about taking funds away from that. Sheff v. O’Neil was one of the most important cases in history. We need to make sure schools are still funded. I feel if we want our youth to understand each other, we have to put focus on CREC. We have to keep money going to integrate schools. If you look at CREC, we have integrated schools.  We need to keep supporting schools.

Audience member:
I wanted to offer big picture, little picture solutions. The book, The Justice Imperative, provides a tremendous amount of data on justice system in CT. Great book to partner with Michelle Alexander’s. On small scale, mentor, tutor. I come in just on one day a week to a school in Hartford. I’ve built wonderful relationships with the k-8 kids. When they leave at 5 o’clock, I worry about them. Some of the kids that have gone to college, they come back and are counselors. I volunteer with the Hartford Catholic Worker on Park Street. We are focused on relationships-we really are there to build a relationship with that community. I’ve done work at Milner school- you get more back then you ever put in.

Audience member:
I live in Hartford, benefited from White Privilege. I’m involved in getting gardens in empty lots. Aside from that I wanted to make a few brief points. In regards to schools, our neighborhood schools are hurting. Clark street school, Milner, they are hurting. 50% of Hartford students are not in Magnet schools. Tutor at those schools. One other thing Rev. Brown, I wanted to ask you how the community conversations are going with the police.

Rev. Brown:
They are going well.  On February 19th, we are having another series. We have a Police Chief now that is willing to listen, to bridge the gap between the community and the police. We are trying to change the perception of the police from the community and the perception of the community to the police. The events are held at the Police Athletic League-80 Williams Street.

Audience member:
I have an idea for a school. I teach at Westward Upper Elementary School in Farmington. We have Diversity and Inclusion Ambassadors at the school. These are students who want to be a part of the program and we have facilitators come in to deliver training. We talk and learn about “meanness,” how to be an ally. We strive to teach students at an early age how to be nice to each other. Start to pave the way towards harmony. Children are ambassadors, they have ideas that they brainstorm together. Aswad, would you come to our school one day?

Aswad Thomas:
I would love that. Another way to get involved is with Hartford Action. Hartford Action is holding a youth forum – Feb 25th from 5:30 – 8:00 pm. We are looking for volunteers, youth.

Rev. Brown:
April 5th, annual march to the state capitol. Very successful-this will be the 8th or 9th one. We have an influx of great people from all over CT. 

Aswad Thomas:
I want to leave with a quote from Michelle Alexander, “The fate of millions of people—indeed the future of the black community itself—may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society.”

Katherine Kane:
 Thank you to our Stowe Center Trustees for being here and for you all for coming. To finish, I think Henrietta you have a picture of your son. 

Henrietta Beckman:
This is my son Randy and this was the last picture he took before he passed.  

Rev. Brown:
His son looks just like him. He left a piece of him with her.

Katherine Kane:
Thank you again to featured guests. We hope you take what you learned here and make connections and go out and do something.  

Inspiration to Action:

-1st Mondays Mothers United Against Violence Meetings- 285 Church Street

-Talk about equality everyday
-Empower the young people in your community and outside your community
-Create mutual visibility- share your stories
-Create task force within your own community. Then join together.
-Join Hartford Action
-Change law enforcement policies
-Educate others on what you heard tonight
-Go into schools, listen to children, volunteer- use your privilege to better the community
-“Step Up, Step Out” group as an example
-Get outside your comfort zone
-Support education, CREC, and neighborhood schools
-Read The Justice Imperative and The New Jim Crow
-Work with city gardens to strengthen food access in communities
-Work on creating diversity and inclusion in schools
-Engage with the United Way Reading Program
-Participate in upcoming events: Feb. 19th 6:00 pm: Courageous Community Conversations with Police Department; Feb 25th 5:30 -8:00 pm: Hartford Action Youth Forum; April 5th: Annual Mothers United Against Violence march to the State Capitol  

Have any action tips to add? Didn't get a chance to share an idea? Do so below in the comments! 

1 comment:

Diane Pflugrad Foley said...

One of the important questions raised during this Salon within the context of the Newtown massacre was, "What about Hartford?" Two of the people most affected by the massacre are the parents of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene. Her parents have focused their efforts to prevent gun violence around the notion of gun safety. I'd love to see a salon focus on this important difference. Funds that were donated in memory of Ana go to the http://anagracefund.imageworksllc.com/. And proceeds from Jimmy's new album, Beautiful Life, will support the Ana Grace Fund and the Artist's Collective in Hartford. Here's a link to Jimmy talking about the album on NPR http://www.npr.org/blogs/ablogsupreme/2014/11/25/366535130/after-sandy-hook-saxophonist-shares-a-beautiful-life, and a link to Jimmy and his wife Nelba on John Dankosky's Where We Live talking about how "love wins": http://wnpr.org/post/remembering-ana-grace-through-music-love-community-connection.