On the evening of October 10, the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust, in partnership with Keystone College, sponsored a successful forum, “It Begins with Each of Us: Fostering Racial Understanding,” in Keystone’s Brooks Theater. Lucas Taylor, Keystone College-DFCLT liaison, was master of ceremonies.
In her welcoming remarks, Keystone College President Tracy Brundage, PhD, said, “We come here as people from many different racial make-ups, backgrounds, ideologies and viewpoints…not to discuss our own opinions, but to listen to the views and viewpoints of others. By doing so, we hopefully can gain a more complete perspective on the critical matters of race in our communities, our nation and our world…and leave here with a deeper commitment to understanding each other as individuals worthy of dignity, respect and love.”
The Reverend Mother Jo Ann Jones, associate pastor of the Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, PA was moderator of the Forum’s fascinating panel discussion. The panelists included historical anthropologist, Patrice Jeppson, PhD, adjunct assistant professor at Cheyney University who addressed “The Myth of Race,” in which she approached the concept of race from an anthropological perspective, tracing the DNA common to us all.
Panelist Christina Williams, MBA, psychosocial manager at Bayada Home Care in Media, PA addressed “Fear of the Other” examining where stereotypes come from and why people cling to stereotypes. Jim Remsen, a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and author of the book, Embattled Freedom, the true story of a free black community of formerly enslaved people in Waverly, PA discussed the “Dangerous Effects of Racism.” Substituting for a panelist who had to cancel at the last minute, DFCLT President Denise Dennis discussed “The Immorality of Racism.”
Following the panel presentation, in-depth discussions and challenging questions, Forum attendees, seated at round tables, were asked to talk with the people at their tables and together recommend ideas for how to foster racial understanding in our lives and communities. A representative from each table then presented his or her table’s recommendation to the entire forum.
Although race can be a controversial and thorny subject, the Dennis Farm Forum succeeded in facilitating frank, in-depth and complex discussions free of rancor. The evening was inspiring. An article by Rick Hiduk, of the Endless Mountains on line magazine, quotes two Forum attendees.
“Stereotypes are learned, and they can be unlearned,” was the primary take on the forum for Natalie Krak, who attended on behalf of state Department of Agriculture secretary Russell Redding. “We ended up talking about what we can all do to address racism in our own communities.”
“Given the current state of divisiveness among Americans, I feel having forums and conversations like this is just as important now as they were during the 1950s and ’60s,” said Cain Chamberlin, director of the Endless Mountains Heritage Region.
“I feel that it’s [the Forum] a model that could be replicated in other places,” Krak concurred.
In her opening remarks, DFCLT President Denise Dennis explained the motivation behind the Forum.
“The history of the Dennis Farm, and the community surrounding it, symbolizes what is best and what is possible in the United States,” she said, “that we can live together in mutual respect as neighbors and friends across racial, ethnic, religious and cultural barriers. My ancestors, free African Americans, arrived in this region from Connecticut in 1793, purchased land, and for more than 100 years farmed it and lived in harmony and mutual respect among their neighbors who were white. That is why, when there is so much hatred and division brewing in the nation today, DFCLT with Keystone College, is hosting this forum to foster understanding. I hope that when we leave tonight, we have more tools in our toolbox for building understanding about race in our lives and communities. From each of us, it will spread exponentially. We can defeat the negative with the positive and overcome hate with love. My ancestors and their neighbors showed us the way forward, all those years ago.”