Inaugural Conference Addresses Importance of Civic, Community Engagement
Living in a world where the trend of divisiveness and inequality is steadily increasing, Susan Wilson, Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said the time is now to talk about educating, organizing and advocating for social justice and civil rights.
Historically, Wilson said, when you look at any major movement in the United States, young people have been at the helm of influencing change. Thus it came as no surprise that UMKC’s inaugural Educate-Organize-Advocate civic and community engagement conference was largely attended by students on Friday, Oct. 20.
Concluding a full day of breakout sessions addressing a variety of social justice issues and movements, from feminism to policing and knowing your rights on campus and in the streets, keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver II addressed an audience of UMKC faculty, staff and students. Cleaver, a fifth district congressman representing Kansas City, opened with a story about a time in 2008 where he was called into a meeting with the House Financial Services Committee regarding the fear of a world-wide depression. That meeting, Cleaver said, ultimately resulted in a large bank bailout.
“As of today, there has not been one single person who almost plunged this nation into the worst depression the world has ever known that has gone to jail,” said Cleaver. He cited the example to highlight differences in how the guilty rich are treated compared to the innocent poor. “As long as that happens, you have to speak up.” This served as the underlying theme of his keynote address.
Cleaver used examples of legislation that were passed due to silence from everyday American people, and others that were blocked due to those who spoke up and, in some cases, protested. He told attendees “we are partners in the fight for justice.”
Taking questions from the audience, Cleaver addressed how to advocate for free speech in times of discouragement and violence against those who speak against injustice.
“We have to stand up for justice, and we have to do it thoughtfully and think about the consequences of what we want to do,” said Cleaver.
The Educate-Organize-Advocate conference is meant to provide the UMKC community with the tools necessary to engage in meaningful dialogue over challenging topics; to increase advocacy for self and others; and to integrate cultural competence, emancipatory pedagogy and diversity not only into curriculum, but into our everyday lives as civically engaged members of an urban community.
Educate-Organize-Advocate is hosted by the Division of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Multicultural Affairs. Rhiannon Dickerson, UMKC Discourse Coordinator, served as the conference creator and committee chair. Sponsorship for the conference was provided by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Latinx and Latin American Studies, Black Studies, Women’s Center, Division of Diversity and Inclusion, the LGBTQIA Programs, the Office of Affirmative Action, FaCET, Latin American Student Organizations, Honors Diversity and Inclusion Advocates and the Student Government Association.