In a room full of city and state employees getting a dose of racial sensitivity training, I heard the word “cracker,” as it refers to a Caucasian person.
I widened my eyes at the sound of the racial slur and briefly skimmed the room for the slightest responsive gesture from the rest of the audience. I already knew this remark had stirred something in everyone else too; after all, we were at a race and culture summit.
The 8th annual Mayor’s Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relations was held Monday and Tuesday at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center with four keynote speakers and several workshop lecturers from schools like Emory University and the University of Texas. Brenda Jarmon, whose title presentation was, “Teaching Our Children that Diversity is More Than Race: Early intervention is Key,” is a Delaware State University graduate, a former professor of social work at Florida State and a current associate professor of social work at FAMU. Ironically, Jarmon was the only FAMU representation among speakers at the conference.
I wanted to avoid making an issue of the fact that Jarmon was the only FAMU participant featured on the summit’s agenda, compared to several FSU professors. Though the race card was seemingly played out during this year’s summit, I want to refrain from depicting her as the token black person she joked about during her presentation. It was, however, a disservice to paying participants for summit coordinators not to include others like Jarmon, who have experienced and understand the African-American condition.
The session, though energetic with anecdotes from Jarmon’s childhood and audience participation, never seemed to lose its focus on dealing with children and race. The inclusion of her real life experiences, from not being allowed to bring white men home while her brother could “bring home all the white women he wanted,” to stereotyping a white student by her skin color only to find out she was of African descent, provided a glimpse at Jarmon, the person. Her candor made her presentation more relatable to the audience than any of the other speakers’ talks. While many were probably taken aback by the candid nature of her presentation, at the very least, she was able to keep everyone’s attention.
Throughout the two-hour workshop, I was able to relate the lecture back to many I’ve listened to in classrooms at FAMU; others may not have been able to do so. More speakers like Jarmon, whose HBCU experience seems to have come full circle, may be what the summit truly needed¾an undisguised truth based on personal and diverse encounters. While I was not able to participate in all of the concurrent workshops, I question if speakers can tackle real race issues without experiencing it themselves.