Under the banner of “The Time Is Now,” the third Summit on Race Matters in the Greenbrier Valley held a full day of workshops in Lewisburg on Saturday.
Getting the day off to a rousing start, keynote speaker Arley Johnson, of J and P Consulting in the Washington, D.C., area, spoke to nearly 150 Summit attendees on the topic of taking responsibility for eradicating racism in the United States.
Johnson read the familiar text of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “The New Colossus” that is printed on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty. Seen as a welcoming message for immigrants, the poem begins, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Unfortunately, Johnson said, “Those words don’t ring true anymore. In fact, they ring very hollow.”
He asked why people of color apparently are no longer welcome to try to make a better life for themselves by immigrating to the U.S. Answering his own question, he said the white people in this country are terrified of the day — projected to be anywhere from 2042 to 2049 — when U.S. demographics will reach a tipping point and people of color will outnumber the current white European-descended majority.
“It’s all predicated on that fear,” Johnson maintained.
Rebutting the notion that the new majority will be set on revenge against white people, he said nothing could be further from the truth.
“We’re going to make this thing better,” he pledged. “We’re not going to make it worse.”
He said the 2016 presidential election “was a wake-up call” for the nation.
“You’ve got to work at doing good,” Johnson said. “We fell asleep at the switch. That’s why that nut is in (the White House).”
Other factors at work in the 2016 election included a campaign designed to “demoralize” African American voters and keep them at home, while encouraging “the redneck vote,” Johnson said.
The campaign continues today, he said, driven by a Fox News Network that “spends its time fomenting hate.”
He said it is not enough to simply recognize the lies coming from extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. It is necessary to challenge the lies and the racial slurs on the spot, Johnson said.
He placed the onus for correcting the problem squarely on his audience, a gathering that — like most in West Virginia — was more than 50 percent white.
“Racism in America is a white problem,” Johnson said. “It’s whites that sit in their home and in their office … and say nothing. For so long, whites have been silent.”
Paraphrasing scripture, he said bad Samaritans see a problem but walk on by without pausing to help, while “a good Samaritan will stop.” He told his audience, “It’s your responsibility.”
The two-day Summit was held in the Kyle and Ann Fort Arts and Sciences Building on the Lewisburg campus of New River Community and Technical College.
It was presented by the Levine Family Foundation, the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy and the college.
Members of the Summit’s steering committee are Larry Baxter, Pat Carter, Naomi Cohen, Harvey Cohen, Larry Davis, Roger Griffith, Katonya Hart, Twana Jackson, Wanda Johnson, Jeff Kessler, Carli Mareneck, Herb Montgomery, Patrick Murat, Jackie Joe Robinson, Susan Seams, Meg Squier, Lauren Wadsworth, Beverly White and Loretta Young.