UMKC held the Educate, Organize, Advocate social justice conference Friday to address issues many don’t know how to tackle: racial tension, cultural differences and uncertainty about self-identity. This conference provided workshops on how to improve civic and community engagement, a civic connections fair and powerful keynote speaker, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II.
Discourse coordinator and communication studies professor Rhiannon Dickerson stated that she organized this event because inequality continues to fester. She used open white supremacy as a prime example of racial dominance in today’s society.
When asked what she hoped people gained from the conference, Dickerson said, “I hope they feel empowered to make differences within their communities and take risks to advocate for themselves and others.”
Most notably, Cleaver spoke on the significance of advocacy and activism. Cleaver is now serving his seventh term representing Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District, a role he’s occupied since 2005.
Among the audience’s many questions for Cleaver, one attendee asked how he keeps faith in the midst of adversity.
“There’s always consequences to activism,” Cleaver acknowledged. “Two years ago my office was bombed. When the Democratic National Convention was hacked, all of my personal information was leaked on the Internet. I bet whoever did it said, ‘He’s going to stop now,’ but these obstacles only empowered me to become a better individual.”
Cleaver revealed he become an activist the day his Aunt Edna told him and his siblings the nursey rhyme of Mother Goose.
“There are people like Mother Goose who need someone to speak up and step up for them,” he explained.
Attendee Claire Verbeck, an employee of the UMKC’s Honor College, became inspired to attend the conference after she found out about its interesting speakers.
“We all have a responsibility to reflect on ourselves as a society and community members,” said Verbeck. “Many people participate in things that are on a national level, but neglect participating in local level things. It’s about supporting small things first and then going big.”
Verback said the EOA conference provided her with beneficial tools.
“They helped me recognize my own inclinations and biases. There’s diversity at UMKC, [but] I understand that it’s easier to gravitate to people who are like you,” she said. “However, starting a simple conversation with someone can go a long way.”