Students, faculty and residents of Bloomsburg came together last Friday to have an open discussion on a sensitive topic that many believed needed to be talked about; race. The event was organized by CGA and the African Student Association (ASA) where President Joar Dahn emphasized the importance of having this discussion.
“This conversation was long overdue but we are here now and it is better late than never,” said Dahn on Friday. “Some students do not feel safe here and it is my responsibility to do something about that. I do not work for the town, I work for the students.” Dahn talked about why they named the event beyond the fountain. He explained how his CGA executive board were going out promoting their event and how they were told that they shouldn’t go ‘beyond the fountain’ because some of the students on the board are black. Some then did not feel comfortable going past the fountain to promote so they decided to not to do it. Malik Muhammad, Coordinator of Sexual and Gender Diversity, introduced Dahn to the podium after he gave a brief speech about what to expect at the event.
“We are here to have an open, honest and raw conversation about racism in our town in Bloomsburg,” said Muhammad. “We are not here to change your political views, we are about respecting folks and all people and to engage as a community.
Muhammad then gave out some basic rules to follow, do not interrupt, listen with an open mind, take risks, speak from your experiences andrespect different opinions. He also explained definitions of relevant terminology like prejudice, discrimination, racism, bigotry, oppression and privilege. He then pulled about an article from the Press Enterprise that was posted on Facebook and showed a comment that someone said about the event. The post said “If they don’t like it here then they can leave.”
“This is why we are here today, said Muhammad, let us work to do better. Let us work to educate”Dahn then gave a speech thanking everyone for coming and those who helped put the event together. He thanked his CGA and ASA executive board, the BUPD, the town and more. Dahn then introduced Heath Walker to speak. Walker is the local mailman and is the only African American mailman in Bloomsburg. He began talking about his experiences. “I lived in this town since 2008 and started delivering in 2011,” said Walker. I remember my first couple weeks here as a mailman I would see residents in their homes closed the doors at my face and peep through the windows as I was delivering their mail. Then one day someone kept driving past me throughout the entire day and then they called the police department saying “there is something wrong with the mailman.” They responded saying nothing was wrong with me and the resident said “are you sure cause there’s a black man delivering my mail.” The concerned customer thought that I beat up a mailman and took their clothes and wore it and started delivering mail,” said Walker.
He then described another experienced he had where he tried to deliver mail at a senior complex but the people there would not let him in. “I told them I am the mailman and they said to me you’re a liar, there is no such thing as a black mailman,” said Walker. “Just because I am black, I cannot be a mailman and that was odd to me.” Walker then continued and shared one last experience he had in Bloomsburg. He went to basketball game and they asked everyone to rise for the national anthem. “I heard someone behind me say, I wonder if he’s going to stand up,” said Walker. He stood up and after the national anthem was over he heard the person behind him say “Jeez that was intense.”
“That really hurt me,” said Walker. “Here I am, I am a U.S army vet. I defended this country and because I am black he thought I would not stand for the national anthem. My hope for this is that the dialogue will continue and we need to help each other.”
The event then transitioned to where people in the audience had to move and meet someone they did not know. Then there were discussion topics like is there racism/prejudice/discrimination in Bloomsburg? The use of the N word and how we can move forward. People in the audience then shared their thoughts and the discussion that they had with the people they just met. “We should provide the leadership to help provide the change,” said Dr. Irvin Wright. “We have to think about our experiences on the basis and where we can and cannot go. We have to carry a burden.”
When discussing the use of the N word, the snapchat incident was brought up when a Bloomsburg University student posted a photo with a caption saying “all you philly n****** need to leave our town.” The university is currently dealing with situation. “Our problem here is that we don’t communicate. I might be beyond the fountain but you have ally there,” said an attorney at Bloomsburg.
Professor John Okpara put his input about moving forward at BU. “We have to take care of the minority students here. Half of them will leave here because they did not keep hope alive. Never be intimated. Our biggest problem is that we don’t know how to interact with one another.”
Someone talked up about an experience that professor Prof. Sonia Ammar had in Bloomsburg. When she was in a grocery store one day she was confronted by a man who threatened to kill her and called her a terrorist. She called the police department but she said they did nothing. “We need to show people of color that they’re no different than us. Standing up to the issue is the first step of comfortability in the town of Bloomsburg,” said student Paul Petaccio.
Towards the end of the night, Mayor Bower said a few words about the topic. “I learned early on that racism is not acceptable. We need more diversity,” said Bower.
Bower talked about how there is no diversity in the police department and in his council. “We cannot tolerate racism in any kind in Bloomsburg and in the government. If there is a problem. I want to know about it. Silence is deadly.
The event was successful and brought the town and university together to tackle an issue that needed to be addressed. “The conversation does not end here. Communication is key. My goal is for us to embrace diversity not just because you have to live with it,” said Dahn.