African American Accomplishments Celebrated
On Jan. 18, 2018, Georgia Tech held its sixth annual MLK Sunday Supper in the Bill Moore Student Success Center. Sirocus Barnes, Program Director for CEISMC’s Horizons at GT, first brought the event to Tech’s campus after he attended a Sunday Supper in Chicago in 2012. The gatherings, which are part of a national program organized by Points of Light, provide an uncommon setting for people of many different backgrounds to come together over a meal and engage in meaningful, judgment-free conversations.
“One thing I love about the Sunday Supper is that there are not many times when you can get staff, faculty, and students together to discuss things that are relevant to our political climate and our campus culture,” said Barnes. “It creates opportunities for real, authentic conversations where it is a very safe place to agree, to disagree, or to push back on different thoughts. I think that is very powerful, with people coming from varying backgrounds – be it racial backgrounds, be it economic backgrounds, be it educational backgrounds,” he continued.
The Sunday Supper was held as one of Georgia Tech’s MLK Celebration Events, and aligned its conversations with the 2018 MLK Celebration theme, “Actualizing the Dream: The Future of Nonviolent Political Protest.” Dean Jacqueline Royster moderated the discussion, and faculty members from various schools across campus led table conversations to ensure that the occasion remained a safe and productive space.
“One of the reasons I chose to go more of a faculty-led route is because – with everything going on today regarding political protest and discussing if they are valid or not valid – I didn’t want to open up such a serious conversation and not have skilled facilitators. The faculty members, along with Dean Royster as the moderator, did a wonderful job of facilitating those conversations,” said Barnes.
This year’s Sunday Supper stood out from previous ones because of its focus on moving beyond the conversations had at the table. Barnes praised Dean Royster for her role as a moderator; she highlighted some of the key issues discussed, then encouraged participants to turn their conversations into actions. Additionally, Barnes explained how awareness of the upcoming 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination affected the Sunday Supper conversations: “One reason that played a significant role is because we started our campus-wide MLK Celebration with our keynote lecturer Joy-Ann Reid; she laid a very strong foundation and framework for this ideal of nonviolent political protest. In her talk, she focused on the history of what Dr. King was doing there in Memphis, so having such a strong keynote speaker starting our MLK celebrations off with such a strong message really contributed to the conversations that were had at the Sunday Supper.”
The MLK Sunday Supper also serves as an opportunity to discuss the accomplishments of African Americans leading up to Black History Month in February. Barnes discussed some of the reasons why Black History Month is so important to him: “I think Black History Month is basically America’s history; there are so many accomplishments that African Americans or black people have made to this country and to this world that I believe sometimes people just do not know about – so, I do like the idea of there being a dedicated time where we can focus on that,” said Barnes. He added, “One thing I am always cautious of is sometimes people only focus on Black History Month starting at slavery, but black history and the things that black people have contributed to society go well beyond slavery. That is important to me, that people recognize that Black History Month and the celebration of the accomplishments of black people – and black people accomplishing things in this world – did not start at slavery or after slavery, but goes well beyond,” he said.
Like the Sunday Suppers, Black History Month provides a designated time to reflect on the accomplishments of visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr. and to continue to move forward with their work. It is also serves as a reminder to continue to have meaningful conversations that extend beyond one’s own community. “It is so important for us to talk to people who don’t look like us, who don’t sound like us, or don’t come from our communities, and sometimes without programs like the Sunday Suppers, we never do that,” said Barnes. He continued, “Sometimes it is so easy for us to talk to people who only live in our community, and if you live in a very homogenous community, you are just going to continue to talk to people who are like you. Understanding that you can learn so much from others who are not like you or who don’t live in your ecosystem is important to constantly think about doing.”
By Rosemary Pitrone - CEISMC Communications