To forge a better future, we must confront and accept our past.
That was the consensus of the 28th Granville Hicks Leadership Academy for Laity and Clergy. The event was held Jan. 30-31 at Claflin University.
The Student Panel Discussion – the first order of business following the registration and lunch periods respectively – focused on, "The New Jim Crow: 'Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.'" The topic was based on Michelle Alexander’s book by the same name.
The Rev. Larry McCutcheon, interim chaplain for Claflin, said he hoped the panel would "start a dialogue between the different generations present.” The problem with different generations is that “they don’t communicate with each other efficiently," he said.
The student panel tackled issues of mass incarceration, systematic racism, generational disconnect, seeking to bridge the gap between past, present and future voices of change. The panel, moderated by Claflin professor Dr. Kathryn Silva, featured students Majayla Page, Christopher Key, Khalil Koger, Keon Stephens-Miley and Taylor Bowman.
Throughout the discussion it became clear that a gap between generations was the result of misunderstanding between one another due to the difference in hardships experienced by each generation. Thus, the solutions to these issues have also changed from generation to generation.
Issues such as mass incarceration have persisted to this day because the difference of opinions between generations prevents change from being enacted. It was not long before the role of the church in the mass incarceration of youths was questioned.
Page pointed out that the church “should be a more outgoing institution aimed at helping to rehabilitate former inmates.”
Stephens-Miley and Koger responded by claiming that the mass incarceration of black men is a product of churches failing to prepare them for the real world.
Older members of the audience countered that other factors are responsible for mass incarceration.
They said mass incarceration is the result of a system that was built against black people -- and the system is still in place and causes fiction between the people who built the system and the people most affected by it. This led the discussion in a more personal direction as the students and audience spoke from experience with the system.
Stephens-Miley recounted his experience with an officer, and said, “Although African Americans have the right to say no to an officer, they will still not.” This may be their right but may not be the best option for their survival.
Key said, “Change in the system will not come without resistance and so in order to prosper, we must continue to push back.”
This focused the conversation on how to change the system.
Koger proposed that focus not be placed on offering rehabilitation to released inmates but on helping the younger generation “to not end up in prison in the first place.” He practices his own logic with the youth football group that he coaches at Empowerment Worship Center in Orangeburg.
“I wish to show them good examples of a black man," Koger said. "I would rather keep them from going to prison than trying to help them get out."
Another student wanted to know, “Why appeal to a system that is against African Americans? Why not tear it down and rebuild?”
Bowman and Key responded that the best way is to work with the system.
"Everyone is not on one accord and ready for a revolution," Bowman said.
Key said, "The system is too big to change at once, so change will come from one person or one group working within the system to be the change that they want to see.”
Khalil Kroger concluded, “We need to come together to fight for change.”
Christopher countered, “We are in too much of a comfortable position to change. People cannot unite as they were divided when the issues initially began.”
Other students shared the same sentiment and agreed that nowadays the division between the young and old generations is halting progress.
McCutcheon said the panel discussion was a success.
“Although the students presiding over the panel are still learning, I wanted them to teach the older generation in the audience about their perspectives," he said.
McCutcheon said young people are the voice of the future -- and their voices are important today.
"The young people don’t understand everything just like how the old people don’t know everything. What is important is that we come together and talk so we can learn from each other.”
The Granville Hicks Leadership Academy, held in 2020 for the 28th year, honors the Rev. Dr. Granville A. Hicks, a 1957 Claflin graduate who has been recognized for his leadership as a pastor and district superintendent in the South Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. The event empowers attendees with biblical knowledge, intellectual growth and theological reflection.