In November of 2021, the Equality and Justice committee had the opportunity to volunteer with Migration and Refugee Services of Catholic Charities of Louisville. Catholic Charities of Louisville is a non-profit organization that serves to help those in need around the West End. There are many other branches under this organization which include, but are not limited to, Sister’s Visitor Center which is an emergency assistance program that provides basic needs such as food, and financial aid, Common Table which is an 8-week program that works to reduce poverty by providing job training in the culinary arts, and Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) which help find refugee clients with suitable housing and stocking the home with food and furniture.
When the Equality and Justice committee visited the Migration and Refugees Center with MRS leader, Lauren Goldener, we were able to organize their donations by separating each item into their assigned category for a few hours. However, when I first got to that site, I felt a wave of emotions come over me, mainly the feeling of being overwhelmed, because they were so many donations. But in that moment, I wondered what the people receiving the donations must have felt all along.
At the end of one of our committee meetings, we were able to reflect on that service. Whenever we serve others, not only are we impacting their lives, but we’re also making a difference in ours. We can only leave with a little bit more knowledge about topics that may be uncomfortable to talk about, but we have to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. We must understand that it is so important for everyone to not only serve their community, but also welcome them with open arms, especially those who have experienced oppression much of their lives, and help them restore their sense of dignity.
In my role on the Engage Lead Serve Board this year, something that I wanted to focus on was stories. I think that storytelling is one of the best ways to enact social change. Stories make others stop and listen which in turn causes them to feel what it is like in someone else’s shoes. Being the Equality and Justice committee, our mission is to introduce stories that make people stop and listen to the greater community. These stories that we share should be ones of diversity, achievement, inclusion, trailblazing. These stories should introduce our community to people unlike themselves. We want to provide opportunities for others to learn about those different from themselves in a safe space. I believe that a lot of our events have done this, and I am proud of the work that our committee has done so far this year.
This spring semester, we’ve hosted a poetry reading night and a panel discussion with authors of color. The poetry reading night is an annual event put on by the Equality and Justice committee called Somewhere In America. Last year, this event was held at the Cardinal Lounge. There were cozy chairs and yummy treats, but with Covid, this was not possible. We tried to make the event feel as comfortable and safe as it felt last year. Moyo, my committee co-director, had this amazing idea to utilize Jamboard. This platform allowed people to collaboratively reflect on the poems they heard. We were nervous that people wouldn’t want to do this, especially publicly, but they did! People were reflecting on topics such as therapy, religion, family relationships, and gender roles. I was surprised with how open and real everyone was. Since it was a virtual event, I didn’t think that people would feel as though they were in a safe space, but I was oh so glad to be proven wrong.
The panel discussion with the two authors of color went very well. We had a romance writer and a fantasy writer talk with us. I personally love to read and rather enjoy those two genres, so I was really looking forward to this event. In the end, I think that we had a great discussion about the writing and publishing industry and the work that still needs to be done in order to improve the equity for and diversity of writers. We were also able to give away 6 copies of the authors’ books, which was amazing to be able to do. I loved this event so much, and I am so grateful to the authors for coming and speaking with us. I learned so much, especially since I am an aspiring writer/publisher. It’s amazing how the Engage Lead Serve Board has let me plan events that benefit the community while still matching up with passions! I have never felt as welcomed and supported as I do by ELSB.
We are having a pretty good semester so far from our two events to creating Valentine’s Day goodie bags for the kiddos at Family Scholar House. We’ve been able to still do a lot of good despite Covid, and my only hope is that we are affecting people in a positive way during this crazy, turbulent time. I know that many people are getting burnout and feeling tired of staring at screens, but I still feel a passion for ELSB and I know that my fellow board members feel the exact same way. (-:
Equality and Justice Committee Co-Director 2020-2021
Earlier this month, Equality and Justice partnered with the Honor’s Student Council, the MLK Scholars, and the University Library Associations to host an event called How Hip Hop Taught a Kid from Kentucky What an Ally Should Be. In this event, Dr. Mickey Hess spoke with our own Dr. Kaila Story about his life growing up in a predominantly white community in Kentucky. He talked about coming to Louisville and realizing what white privilege is. He shared his journey of learning how to combat active and passive racist comments from people back home and transitioning from a casual hip-hop fan to a hip-hop scholar who actively teaches allyship. The event was an open and honest conversation about the nature of white allyship and how it can easily become cringy and destructive if allies are not informed and intentional. As an ally, the event forced me to hold a mirror to my own actions and I am grateful for the tools that it gave me.
Fast forward to two weeks later as I scrolled through Instagram and saw that a girl from my high school posted a picture from a party with a background that said “Frat Lives Matter.” I could not keep scrolling. I had gone to school with this girl from middle school until senior year of high-school. I would not have characterized us as good friends, but we were close acquaintances. I don’t know what the theme of the party was, or what lead her to be there that night. However, the fact remains that she saw that banner and without recognizing an issue with it, took a picture.
I screenshotted the photo and tried to find a way to respond. I knew that as clever as the primarily white boys of the fraternity at her school may be, this could not have been the first time the phrase was used. I googled it and sure enough, there were several new stories from two years ago when the Kappa Sigma fraternity of UConn emblazoned “Frat Lives Matter” on the spirit rock of their school after 6 of their brothers were arrested. The men had illegally served alcohol to a 19-year-old female student who was killed after drunkenly wandering into traffic on the way home from the frat’s party. The message was painted on February 26th, 2017, the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death.
I don’t know if the men who hosted the party my friend posted about were aware of this history, but that doesn’t matter. The Black Lives Matter movement was started to speak out against years of violence against the black community by the state and vigilantes. White men who have the means to join a fraternity have no reason to mock a movement with such a powerful and important message, a message that was not created for them. That banner sends out two messages. First, the men of that fraternity are ignorant to what Black Lives Matter stands for. Second, that there were several people outside of the frat that attended the party despite its message of ignorance and indifference. Both of these truths are unacceptable in 2019. It is never okay to make a joke of injustice against marginalized groups, and there is nothing lighthearted about posting photos of these mockeries. If you are an ally of the black community only sometime, then you are not an ally at all. I dm’d the girl who posted the photo with a link to the news story about the original “Frat Lives Matter” incident and asked her to consider removing the post. I have not yet received a response, but I am hopeful that we can have a meaningful conversation about the true implications of that banner and it will lead to her post and the banner being removed.
As you all know, the Equality and Justice committee works hard at promoting equality on the University of Louisville campus. We stand firm in the belief that everyone should feel comfortable in their skin and be aware of their identity. So, preparing events that support the uniqueness of all individuals is a way in which we spread our love for all individuals on this campus.
This year we have worked hard to promote our This is America series in hopes to bring together all different cultures and identities in order to discuss important issues in our community. We began our This is America series by discussing the criminal justice system and what improvements we need to make in order to ensure justice. We discussed race inequality in the criminal justice system as well as poverty and the impact that poverty plays in the criminal justice system.
Our part 2 of This is America was about Socio-economic classes and the impact that poverty has on our community. We decided to have a panel of professional individuals that deal with improving impoverished areas in our community.
The part 3 to the This is America series was the final series that was focused on Identity. With the University of Louisville being such a big campus with many different cultures and identities, we felt that it was important to discuss the ways in which we can connect and also respect each others differences. This event included tables with different activities and speakers that discussed the importance of celebrating all the different identities in our community. This event was a success as it brought many different Identities together and gave individuals the chance to express their identities as well as become more comfortable with others.
Equality and Justice Committee Member (18-19)
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Equality and Justice embodies the dedication to achieve community-, campus-, and nation-wide social equality and justice through intriguing events and excellent service.