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Thursday, Oct 28, 2021

Mercer explores race relations with culture sensitivity training and Peace Panel

Nnamdi Onyekwuluje, president of the Organization of Black Students, speaks on the peace panel.
Nnamdi Onyekwuluje, president of the Organization of Black Students, speaks on the peace panel.

Mercer faculty and students honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. this year like never before. The Student Government Association, the office of Federal TRIO Programs and Minority Affairs hosted Cultural Sensitivity Training sessions and a Peace Panel.

Perry Hicks, Committee Chair of Campus Outreach for SGA, has been a part of the Campus Outreach committee for two years now. Hicks said that their main focus has always been on making sure that the student body was represented and that the campus legislation, SGA, represented the student body.

“If you guys recalled, we had a [story published on us in The Cluster] that analyzed the diversity of the elected senators to see if it lined up with the student population and and it wasn’t close at all,” Hicks said. “That’s something I made my mission this year as chair . . . and so I made some bylaw changes and added a diversity initiative.” [related title="Watch the Video" stories="20898" align="right" background="on" border="none" shadow="off"]

Michelle Currie, Executive Director of Federal TRIO Programs and Minority Affairs, calls the trainings and panel the brainchild of Mercer’s ThinkTank.

“[The ThinkTank has] student leadership, faculty representation, staff and a wide array of Mercerians that come together to look at the cultural climate of the institution to gauge what things we should do to be proactive to maintain racial equality and equity at our institution,” Currie said.

The goal of the project was to spark an educated and open discussion about race relations, not just on our campus but in our nation as well.

What we wanted to do was bring someone in who got students to take a chance to think about who they are among the big picture and how they can better support each other,” Currie said. “In an effort to give students better skills, as well as faculty and staff…we thought this would be a great opportunity.”

Thais Ackerman
Barbara Cheives, Converge and Associates consulting president, asks the peace panelists questions.

Barbara Cheives, President of Convergence Associate Consulting, led and taught at the training sessions as well as moderated the Peace Panel. Convergence Associate Consulting does cultural competency training in the workplace, mostly with law enforcement officers and non-profits.

Cheives says that this generation has gotten to the point where they don’t want to talk about what’s wrong.

“There are real or perceived issues with law enforcement community people all over this nation, and we talk at one another about it rather than to one another about it,” said Cheives.

The Peace Panel, held Friday, Jan. 13 included Bibb County Sheriff David Davis, Macon Telegraph Editorial Page Editor Charles Richardson, SGA Vice President Aaron Scherf, The Organization of Black Students President Nnamdi Onyekwuluje and Mercer Debate Team President Kyle Bligen.

Cheives expressed how important she thought it was to have students and law enforcement serving on the same panel.[pullquote speaker="Barbara Cheives" photo="" align="left" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]We may write about it, I can teach about it, but I’m not a young man on the streets.[/pullquote]

“They’re living day-to-day. We may write about it, I can teach about it, but I’m not a young man on the streets,” Cheives said. “If we build those relationships today, then those relationships can last.”

People who registered for the conference were asked to provide their questions beforehand. Many of the questions were related to clarity on the Black Lives Matter movement, police physical and mental training and what Macon is doing to protect black lives and address race relations.

“I think here in Bibb County we do a pretty good job of staying in front of it and addressing those concerns that may come up in any part of the community,” Davis said. “Whether it’s in the African American community, the Muslim community, white community, wherever it is.”

One of the questions the Mercer students on the panel were asked was how they can help to get people to acknowledge that there is a problem.

“We’re pretty good about understanding that there is a problem, [but] these are problems that have been passed down, not ones that have been specifically created in our time,” Onyekwuluje said.

“[Black Lives Matter is] letting people know that these issues do exist. There are regions in society where black lives aren’t valued at the same rate as our white counterparts,” Onyekwuluje said. “[We’re] pushing that message that black lives are not inferior to white lives.”

Richardson and Davis were able to give attendees a lot of context on the history of Macon and the direction the city is heading in with cultural competence.

“[One of my] sheriff’s department in Florida asked me one day, ‘What can we do to not be a Ferguson?’” Cheives said. “My response was ‘Any city in the nation is one bullet away from being a Ferguson.”


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