On Nov. 17, the American Conference on Diversity in partnership with Berkeley College and other colleges and universities held the 17th annual Diversity Issues in Higher Education conference to discuss solutions to today’s surge in hate with keynote speaker Charlottesville Vice Mayor Dr. Wes Bellamy and other thought leaders.
“When you see what transpired on Aug. 12, do not think that that is an anomaly…. When you see Charlottesville, do not believe that we are an anomaly. Charlottesville is truly a representation of the United States,” said an impassioned Dr. Bellamy, who until this past election was the only African American to ever sit on the Charlottesville City Council.
Aligned with the mission of the American Conference on Diversity, Dr. Bellamy challenged the audience to address hate head-on: “Are you using your skills, your resources, your talent or your treasure to encourage and empower others – or are you standing idle while you see injustice, while you see bigotry, while you see all of the negative, evil things going on?”
The daylong conference held at Berkeley College’s Woodland Park, NJ, campus featured an impressive lineup of speakers and panelists, ranging from diversity and inclusion advocates to community organizers to college faculty and students. Berkeley College President Michael J. Smith, who presented the American Conference on Diversity President and CEO Elizabeth Williams-Riley with Berkeley College’s Story of One coin symbolizing the power of self-destiny, welcomed attendees.
Self-empowerment and unity were recurring themes throughout the conference. “We know the important work is the action. It’s taking these discussions, it’s taking what we hear now and putting it into engagement,” said Mr. Smith.
A thought-provoking response panel followed. Moderated by the Past President of the New Jersey State Conference NAACP James Harris, panelists included Dr. Larry Hamm, Chairman of People’s Organization for Progress, Kavita Mehra, Executive Director of Sakhi for South Asian Women, Eileen Gale Kugler, author of Innovative Voices in Education, Mary Chayko, Professor and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, and Montclair Township Police Department Lieutenant Tyrone Williams Jr. (shown below left to right).
Each of the panelists emphasized the importance now more than ever of being agents of change. “Every single day you have the opportunity to make a difference,” said Ms. Mehra. “You can literally change the trajectory of someone’s life.”
The three breakout sessions that followed, focusing on the history of activism and resistance (moderated by Seton Hall University’s Rev. Dr. Forrest M. Pritchett), how to create inclusive communities (led by Pratt Institute’s Dr. Esmilda Abreu), and ways to transform traditional activism (facilitated by New Jersey City University’s Dr. Jennifer Jones), provided further insight toward addressing today’s climate of hate.
During the “History of Activism and Resistance: Tools & Strategies” session, the conversation included both global and national social justice movements. People’s Organization for Progress’s Dr. Hamm (shown far right), who helped lead a student movement against a Newark teachers strike in 1971 and was the youngest to be appointed to a Board of Education nationwide at the age of 17, encouraged the roomful of young adults to take action: “Young people have power when they unite…and it’s collective power that brings about social transformation.”
During the “How Do We Create Inclusive Communities?” session, which covered topics ranging from immigration to interfaith to sexual orientation, The Public Goods Project’s Community Outreach Manager Orville Morales (shown center in the image to the left) summed up the critical need for the D&I movement: “Inclusion is important for the longevity of our society.”
In the “Transforming Traditional Activism” breakout, Detective Kim Nelson-Edwards (below right), who is featured in a new commercial about knowing the law and how to respond to law enforcement during traffic stops, shared several bridge-building initiatives used at Montclair Police Department where she works as the School Resource Officer. Jazmin Peralta, Assistant Director of Special Projects for Equity and Inclusion at Pratt Institute, inspired the audience when she said: “Allyship and activism are not just nouns – they require action!”
The afternoon offered a heartfelt student-led panel – moderated by Seton Hall’s Dr. Forrest M. Pritchett, Faculty Mentor and Freshman Studies Program Director, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Program – that explored the challenges and struggles diverse students often encounter when navigating the higher education system. Seven students from Berkeley College, College of Saint Elizabeth, Seton Hall University, and Stockton University shared valuable insights for college administrators and faculty to create more inclusive and welcoming campuses:
• “Do not take lightly the concerns of exclusion and isolation expressed by students of color. Listen to your students of color.”
• “Adjust the core curriculum…to place more emphasis on cultural education because so much of our careers today are global.”
Dr. Dallas Reed (right), Vice President of Student Development and Campus Life at Berkeley College, who was instrumental in organizing the event, wrapped up the conference with a diversity call to action: “Let today be about action…and being the change you want to see in the world.”
Watch this video of many of the day’s highlights here: https://livestream.com/accounts/18082567/events/7937351/videos/166078778. In addition, below are some social-media outtakes:
“Thank you so much for the inspirational and motivational speech @DrWesBellamy. I left the conference with more hope and determination to be even more active and always have the courage to do what is right.”
~ Jessica Reyes, Bilingual Educator, Middletown Township Public Schools
“Let me shout out each and every person here because today’s discussion was AMAZING.”
~ Melody Rivera, Berkeley College Student & President for the National Society of Leadership and Success
“Passionate and inspirational leadership modeled at the American Conference on Diversity!”
~ Esmilda Abreu-Hornbostel, Ph.D., Assistant VP of Student Affairs and Title IX Coordinator, Pratt Institute
If you would like to join the 2018 Diversity Issues in Higher Education planning committee and be part of our organization’s 70th anniversary celebration, please contact the American Conference on Diversity at info@AmericanConferenceonDiversity.org.
Special thanks to the 2017 partner committee members: American Conference on Diversity, Berkeley College, Bergen Community College, Bloomfield College, Brookdale Community College, College of Saint Elizabeth, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Hudson County Community College, Kean University, Montclair State University, NAACP, New Jersey City University (NJCU), New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, Saint Peter’s University, Seton Hall University, Stockton University, The College of New Jersey, William Paterson University, Pratt Institute, and corporate sponsor New Jersey Resources.
Photographs courtesy of Berkeley College.
About the American Conference on Diversity
The American Conference on Diversity is dedicated to building just and inclusive schools, workplaces, and communities through awareness, education, and advocacy. The nonprofit organization was founded in 1948 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Today the programs, services, and initiatives of the American Conference on Diversity are among the most important work focused on creating a more inclusive society. It is the unfinished business of living in a highly diverse nation: educating and empowering our next generation of leaders, enhancing our workplaces, and helping to create inclusive communities. Visit www.AmericanConferenceonDiversity.org to learn more.
Media Relations Consultant
200 Centennial Ave. Suite 200
Piscataway, NJ 08854