This Last Weekend in Lewisburg, WV
Workshop being held at Summit

Photo Credit: Scott Miller

RaceMatters in the Greenbrier Valley Summit 2018: The Time is Now!
by Herb Montgomery | February 26, 2018

This was the fourth Summit on Race Matters here in West Virginia. Race Matters seeks to improve race relations in West Virginia by bringing people together to raise awareness, educate, confront and eradicate personal, systematic, and institutional racism. The very first Race Matters summit was held in Charleston, WV in 2014. Each of the following have been here in Lewisburg.

This event was held in the Ann and Kyle Fort Arts and Sciences Building of the New River Community and Technical College.

Friday evening’s keynote address was given by Dr. William M. White. He is a native of Bluefield and the Executive Director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs, a Cabinet level position in West Virginia government. His contributions as a leader in education in West Virginia have been with the West Virginia Board of Education, the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority, and Mountain State University. Dr. White was the founder and CEO of Management Development Group, Inc., specializing in organization development consulting to corporations. He was the Executive Producer for the video, “The Power of Diversity,” widely used in the United States for diversity training with federal, state and local governments, the private sector; and nonprofit organizations.

Before the keynote address, Beverly White of the Lewisburg City Council read a Proclamation from Lewisburg’s Mayor, John Manchester in support of the Summit. Next Larry Baxter read a Resolution from Race Matters Greenbrier Valley expressing solidarity with West Virginia’s teachers in all 55 counties who are presently engaged in work stoppages all across the state on strike.

Shaylen Lafferty, one of Greenbrier East High School’s Poetry Out Loud contestants, recited  “Praise Song for the Day” by Elizabeth Alexander who read this poem at the first Presidential inauguration of President Barack Obama. Shaylen also has performed in many plays at Greenbrier East High School and our State Theater of West Virginia, Greenbrier Valley Theatre. These performances include To Kill a Mockingbird. She also participated in High Rocks Academy presentations for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day programs.

Renowned storyteller, W. I. “Bill” Hairston, concluded the evening by regaling us with stories from his own life here in West Virginia. He is currently the outreach director for the Religious Coalition for Community Renewal on the East End. Bill Hairston spreads the word about housing programs available to the homeless. He is best known for the storytelling programs he presents to promote African-American contributions to Appalachian culture.

Following the Friday evening session at the college, Lady D performed at Lewis Theatre on North Court Street. (Also known as Doris Anne Fields and “West Virginia’s First Lady of Soul”) and her band.) It was a fun time for all who participated.

Saturday morning’s events began with a statement and welcome from New River Community and Technical College’s President, Dr. L. Marshall Washington, Ph.D.

Photo Credit: Scott Miller

Saturday morning’s keynote address was given by Arley Ray Johnson. Mr. Johnson is from West Virginia, currently residing in the Washington, D.C. area. Arley has been at the forefront of non-violent social and political change for more than 40 years. His service in West Virginia includes six years as a Delegate in the West Virginia Legislature, Director of the State Workforce Investment Board, Director of Programs in the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, and Executive Director of Advocates for the Other America.  He was awarded the West Virginia Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission Living the Dream Award for advocacy of freedom.

Photo Credit: Scott Miller

Workshops were held throughout the day on Saturday.

Lida Shepherd led a workshop entitled Help Increase the Peace. Her work with the American Friends Service Committee’s WV Economic Justice Project has included helping with the other Summits on Race Matters here in the state. She coordinates racial justice initiatives such as reducing racial disparities in the education and the criminal justice system, as well as policy reforms that address poverty. She has helped students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges around West Virginia to be leaders in policy advocacy and secure wins for poor and working people. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and lives with her family in Charleston.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson who is the Co-executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee led a workshop on BlackLivesMatter and the Movement for Black Lives. This workshop offered participants an opportunity to develop a greater understanding of this movement. The Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee provides training and education for emerging and existing movement leaders throughout the South, Appalachia, and the world. In the 1950s, it played a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks trained there prior to her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. As well as many more.

Rev. Larryetta Ellis, Pastor of the local Edgewood Presbyterian Church led a workshop on the intersection of Faith and Racial/Social Justice. She was also a contributor of this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration where she delivered the keynote address for that event at the Lewisburg United Methodist Church. Rev. Ellis holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. In Louisville, she served as a Chaplain at Norton Hospital and Presbyterian Homes, and she was co-pastor of Beuchel Presbyterian Church.

Pam Nixon led a workshop on Environmental Racism. She brought to this workshop 15 years of experience as an Environmental Advocate for the state DEP. Before she earned her master’s degree in environment science, she lived many years in the town of Institute and learned first-hand about industrial releases of dangerous chemicals into the environment. She is the president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety based in Charleston and a member of the Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee. She is Co-Chair of the WV NAACP Environmental Justice Program, and Chair of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP Environmental Justice Committee.

Charles Woods, outreach coordinator for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, led a two-hour workshop, that included activities geared toward helping youth understand why the Civil Rights movement came to be. Participants who attended this workshop were taught skills that can be used in local schools to help students understand that “the civil rights movement came about because the constitution of this country promises to provide an environment where everyone has the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Gabrielle Chapman led a workshop on Health Disparities and Race. She is the Executive director for the Call to Action for Racial Equality based in Charleston. One of its projects involves partnership with the Charleston Police Department on the ambitious 8-point collaboration aimed at building upon Charleston Police Department’s role as a national leader in the arenas of race relations, community policing, and youth engagement. This was one of the topics for the Summit on Race Matters in Lewisburg in November 2016. She graduated from George Washington High School in Charleston, WV and Russell Sage College in New York, majoring in Applied Biology.

Joseph Cohen, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, led a workshop on Implicit Bias and Confronting Racism. After law school, he received a fellowship to spend two years in South Central Florida with Florida Rural Legal Services (FRLS) representing public housing tenants associations and poor people facing housing crises. That experience put him on the path that led to him to his current position which has given him the opportunity to engage in the fight for civil liberties and civil rights in West Virginia.

Greenbrier County native, Loretta Young, led a workshop on Local African American History and Civil Rights History here in Greenbrier County. She is known here locally as a strong advocate for equal rights and equity in West Virginia. She has been Director of the United Methodist Church – WV Conference, the state Equal Employment Officer under Governor Gaston Caperton, Director of Non-governmental Organizations at UNICEF in NYC, and a member of the West Virginia Human Rights Commission. Her workshop focused on how slavery influenced the creation of the state of West Virginia and a historical timeline of events in its history that impacted the lives of African Americans locally and statewide.

Also during the day on Saturday, compelling performances by Poetik Entertainment were given. Poetik Entertainment uses spoken word talent to uplift community, and was founded by Jamela North Starr Brown and Malik “Duality” Brown.

Because many of us were working behind the scenes the entire weekend, the only workshop I was able to attend was Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson’s workshop from the Highlander Research and Education Center.  It was phenomenal!  The Highlander Research and Education Center, through popular education, participatory research, and cultural work, helps create spaces — at Highlander and in local communities — where people gain knowledge, hope and courage, expanding their ideas of what is possible. They develop leadership and help create and support strong, democratic organizations that work for justice, equality and sustainability in their own communities and that join with others to build broad movements for social, economic and restorative environmental change. If you have not heard Ash-Lee present, she is a wealth of experience and information. And on a personal level, she’s an awesome person, too. As someone who is also from Appalachia, I’m thankful for the opportunity to meet and get to know her. We here at RHM wholeheartedly support the work of the Highlander Research and Education Center community there in Tennessee.

Renewed Heart Ministries is grateful for the work Race Matters is doing here in Greenbrier county and we are proud to be participating with you. By all measures, this event was a success! We here at RHM will continue to work side-by-side with you here in West Virginia to improve race relations in this state, bringing people together, raising awareness, educating, confronting and eradicating personal, systematic, and institutional racism.

Another world is possible.

Herb Montgomery
Renewed Heart Ministries

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