On October 6th, the Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law–along with our partners the Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Equity and Justice Project–convened a conference titled “Truth, Equity & Justice: How We Make Our Way Forward (Again).” Recognizing that racial inequity and antiBlackness are local and global phenomena, the conference brought together those with studied and lived expertise from the Twin Cities, to South Africa, so that we might make our way forward together again.
We heard from the sitting Attorney General, Keith Ellison, about how to actualize racial justice by insisting on justice for all, every time the opportunity presents itself. He reminded us of the importance of not merely responding to harm, but preempting in ways both instinctual and innovative. We also heard from many of the founding members of the Minnesota Equity & Justice Project–Dr. Juleen Christopher, Kevin Lindsey, Mike Burbach, A.L. Brown, Jamal Faleel, Jerry Blackwell (unable to attend) and myself–who introduced MEJP and grounded its work in the mission of actualizing justice for Black people across Minnesota, as well as those beyond our borders. The seeds for MEJP were planted in the aftermath of the slaying of George Floyd, when Dr. Christopher began to convene conversations to brainstorm and continually ask the question “what could be done differently, this time?” This conference and the coming series of future events, are our firsts attempts to articulate a collective roadmap with a common grammar for our differing yet interconnected obstacles in the road toward justice, truth and equity.
We also heard from Virginie Ladisch, Senior Expert, Programs, at the International Center for Transitional Justice. She spoke to us about strategies for justice and reflected on lessons from her experience doing fieldwork for transitional justice and reconciliation efforts in both South Africa and Guatemala. Marcella Naidoo, former Regional Director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa and Executive Director of the Black Sash–reflecting on her experience as a child during South African apartheid and later, as a leader in the movement toward repair and accountability–reminded us of the human costs of both racial violence and racial reconciliation. She urged us to consider and recall who pays the price of (in)justice–noting that it is rarely its powerful architects that held to account and instead its willing and unwilling foot soldiers–and what that means for reconciliation, for healing and for truth? Finally, Marcella reminds us of the important work of uprooting often invisibly racist legal precedents, traditions and norms that sustain, maintain and mandate racial violence and inequity but do so in the name of decorum, process and predictably, as opposed to vitriol.
Next, we heard from local leaders on the challenges and opportunities of actualizing truth, reconciliation and reparations. Jim Bear Jacobs–Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation and Director for Racial Justice for the Minnesota Council of Churches–spoke to the importance of solidarity between Black and Indigenous people, reminding us that our current state of inequity is an afterlife of not only slavery but colonization. He also pushed for us to move beyond mere land acknowledgements, that are not followed with land returns, so that we might move against the notion of words as penance and instead toward material repair as evidence of both intent and durability of change. He reminded white people that equity has a cost, not unlike inequity, and that should be acknowledged and embraced. Sharon Press, of MHSL, spoke about the work that Truth in Action is doing, in collecting and documenting and bearing witness to the stories of Black people who have had police contact and the effect it has had on their lives. Finally, Trahern Crews and Jeremy English–community leaders who have successfully pushed for local reparations movements–drawing a direct line between the land theft experienced by George Floyd’s formerly enslaved ancestors to his murder by local police–re-grounded us in the connection between current antiBlack violence and inequity and the role of specific, intentional, legal and extralegal violence and economic dispossession often called “the afterlives of slavery.” Lastly, Leah Cooper, Michele Livingston and Noelle Faye spoke to us about the unique power of art, witnessing and testimony in allowing a more complete understanding and accounting of complicated truths of those who have experience racial and police violence.
We invite you to watch and share the video below, and to spread the word about about the work of our partners. This is a beginning and not end. Please be on the lookout for future events cohosted by the Minnesota Equity and Justice Project, the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Center for the Study of Black Life and The Law. Please save the date for the formal launch gala for Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law on February 2nd.
We have a long way to go, but if we make our way forward together, the journey won’t be as long or as hard as we’ve somehow become accustomed to.
Dr. T. Anansi Wilson