[Video] Final Webster Speaks of 2020 Focuses on Reflection, Change

As 2020 ends, the nation is still feeling the effects of the pandemic, a stressful presidential election, and continued violence against unarmed Black people. Every two weeks since July, Webster Speaks: Dialogues on RACE, EQUITY and INCLUSION has welcomed special guests to analyze many aspects of the modern civil rights era and the year’s extraordinary events.

On Dec. 16, nine panelists from previous episodes unpacked the tumult of 2020 in a special 90-minute episode that stretched to two hours:

Featured in this episode were

  • Donald M. Suggs, publisher of The St. Louis American
  • Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis
  • Jameca Woody Cooper, PhD, MA, counseling psychologist and Webster faculty member
  • Carol Daniel, KMOX news anchor and Webster adjunct faculty member
  • Brennae Jackson, Webster student and Suggs Scholar
  • Alisha Sonnier, Ferguson activist, mental health advocate and co-founder of the BlackTea podcast
  • Cbabi Bayoc, artist and activist
  • Hannah Verity, 2019 Witnessing Whiteness participant and director of Webster’s Global Development office
  • Valerie Patton, VP of economic development and executive director of St. Louis Business Diversity Initiative and a leader of the new organization Greater St. Louis Inc.

Speaking with Vincent C. Flewellen, the host of the series and Webster’s chief diversity officer, they and many other panelists throughout the months enabled the show to successfully open up dialogues on social justice and persistent racial inequality.

“When I think about what Webster Speaks has done, it has given voices to us in easy to access way, in an engaging way that has informed us,” Webster Chancellor Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble remarked to the panel. “It has challenged us. It has provoked us at moments. It certainly engaged and inspired us and it has created hope in me that it is possible to have these kinds of conversations.”

Read More: Producer, Announcer Reflect on Lessons, Discussions of 'Webster Speaks'

Historical, Contemporary Contexts

While this year’s deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black people have ignited the spread of the Black Lives Matter movement, the panelists agreed that Ferguson was the real birthplace of this movement.

“Ferguson was definitely a catalyst for a lot of what we see now," said Sonnier, one of the first local activists to rise to prominence in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in 2014. "I don’t think we heard people saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ or even start to have these conversations about police reform, defunding the police. I think all these things we see are results of what we saw in Ferguson in 2014.”

Jackson, a Suggs Scholar and education major at Webster, agreed the view of protestors and activists has changed since Ferguson. “There are more people aligning themselves with the movement," she said. “We have way more allies than we did in the early part of the movement and I appreciate that.”

The Covid 19 pandemic has amplified the stories of racism that have played out across the United States. “We were pretty much forced to only interact with the people in our homes and watch TV all day, read books, or what have you,” observed Woody Cooper. “Because people were stuck in the house, they were forced to really not just look at the news, but maybe digest what had been going on.”

Providing historical context throughout the show, Suggs mentioned the Jewish community for maintaining its identity and keeping traditions intact. He said the Black community would be wise to emulate it.

“Some of us since the 1960s have been urging Black people to understand some of the things you need to understand about your history and about politics. ... All those things that have impacted you in daily lives, you're going to have to learn inside your own community.”

In addition to looking inward, Daniel also said it is time for the nation to heal.

We as a community have to be willing to do any and everything that we can by helping personally and professionally

Advice for Moving On from 2020

“We have to address the grief that this nation continues to endure and has not even really been able to experience," said Carol Daniel. "Because, for people to not be able to bury loved ones, the grief process is stunted,” she said. “The election for many, clearly for many, is a positive move in the right direction; but for this nation to heal, it is going to take a completely different process from a lot of different people than just the president- and the vice president-elect.”

Bayoc stressed the importance of looking ahead and moving on: “All you can do is own your own narrative, own your own truth, and act on that and just have good intentions,” he said. “If we focus on who’s to blame instead of doing what we can to promote change, then we’re putting our energy into the wrong place.”

McMillan said more money and energy must go toward social services and economic redevelopment. “There are so many areas that are in need of an economic development infusion,” he said. “And we as a community, we as a people … have to be willing to do any and everything that we can to improve this area by helping personally and professionally and using our sphere of influence in both of those worlds to try to bring resources to people that need it the most.”

Patton, who recently co-founded Greater St. Louis Inc. out of five local partnerships, called for unity in the St. Louis region and nationally. “We cannot give up. We cannot be at odds with one another,” she said. “We must do the work. So what does the work look like? Whatever you are good at, you need to bring your talents treasures and time to the table. We must heal. We must understand one another.”

Hannah Verity, who appeared on a panel of white social justice activists, said the momentum must continue. “We saw a lot more white people speaking up after the killing of George Floyd this summer, and I hope to see a continued commitment and dismantling racism among white people that [showed] it wasn’t just for show, but that we were invested in change.”

Stroble, along with Webster University President Julian Z. Schuster, closed the show with remarks about the meaning of the year and what is still to come.

“It is extremely important where we start, but it is more important where we are going to end,” Schuster said. “So let us engage in the discussion as what is the ultimate objective that we want to achieve? … Without fundamental change to this society, we will not be able to achieve what you deserve, as African Americans, to be achieved.”

Stroble added that Webster took the Black Lives Matter message to heart in 2020, increasing the number of Suggs Scholars, creating a new scholarship for City of St. Louis and north county residents, and creating Webster Speaks. “We took seriously that this was a moment that turned into a movement to serve real needs,” she said.

See what each panelist’s wishes for the New Year are by watching the replay, as well as all previous Webster Speaks episodes, at webster.edu/WebsterSpeaks.

The show will be on hiatus as the University prepares for its sixth annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Conference, which will take place virtually Feb. 23-25.

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