Penn program promotes discussion about race

Race is seemingly one of the few remaining third rails of American politics, whispered about among intimates in private but rarely discussed openly and without reserve, even after the second inauguration of America’s first black president.

"In 2008, in a speech in Philadelphia, then-candidate Barack Obama stated that our country needed a conversation about race," says Richard J. Gelles, dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice. "After the election, Attorney General Eric Holder repeated the call. But, the conversation has yet to happen."

Aspiring to promote an open and uncensored dialogue, the School of Social Policy & Practice and the African-American Resource Center are teaming up for “Let’s Talk About Race,” a frank, interactive discussion on race relations in America.

Part of Penn’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium on Social Change, the conversation will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 5 p.m. in Claudia Cohen Hall. Howard Stevenson, a psychologist and professor in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, will give a keynote presentation before the discussion begins.

“We underestimate the negative effects of daily racial conflicts on the well-being of children and adults at the peril of academic performance, work productivity, and relational bonding,” Stevenson says.

The program will feature a short documentary and a facilitated conversation among small groups made up of racially diverse people. Admission is free and open to the public.

Valerie Dorsey Allen, director of the African-American Resource Center, says that in the 1960s, the Rev. King was one of the few Americans who was able to “bridge communications across the racial divide during a time of intense racial warfare."

“The bridge will be reinforced and strengthened through programs that give [people] an opportunity to start talking,” she says. “Once we start talking, maybe we can work together to, once again, steer that conversation toward peaceful resolutions and better treatment for all people.”

Originally published on January 24, 2013