The first of a four-part series of community conversations known as Conversations on Race & Reconciliation was held in Pottorf Hall on Monday. The goal of the series is the develop a safe space for community members to discuss race relations in Manhattan.
Six Manhattan residents served as panelists who shared their diverse stories about specific connections to the community. Their stories featured elements of their experience and anecdotes of their lives in the city of Manhattan.
The panelists included Jonathan Mertz, event supervisor at the Flint Hills Discovery Center; Tareque Nasser, associate professor of Finance at Kansas State; and Cathy Austin, who emigrated to the United States from the Philippines four years ago. U.S. Army veteran Kaleb James, Linnetta Hill, lifetime resident of Manhattan with family roots in the founding in Manhattan, and Manhattan High School Spanish teacher Carmen Elizabeth Wilson were also panelists.
Each member shared different stories of connection to the community that varied from life growing up in Manhattan and diverse experiences of moving to Manhattan.
Once panelists were done sharing personal testimonies, audience members were randomly assigned to sit at tables with other members, to participate in small group discussions that were facilitated by an appointed group member.
Ben Deaver, a facilitator for small group discussions, came to Manhattan in 1999 as a freshman at Kansas State. Originally from Kansas City, Kansas, Deaver said he came from a diverse high school, where he played basketball and was the only white male on the team. His first thought about Manhattan was that it was more of a culture shock.
“[I was] struck by what I would perceive as the lack of diversity — I had to seek out diversity as my first exposure to Manhattan,” Deaver said.
Christian Bishop was part of a small group discussion and discussed what it was like growing up African American in Manhattan.
“Since I was two I have lived here, we moved from Lawrence,” Bishop said. “I grew up in the military community even though we weren’t directly in the military. … I never really experienced discrimination, both my parents are African American, my mom is very light skin, so I have always been thought of as the black-white girl because of how I speak, how my hair is kind of naturally straight and everything. … It kind of helped growing up because I could kind of fit in both groups.”
As Bishop got older, that experience changed.
“[I] understand what it was to be a ‘white girl,’ now when I get sassy or voice my opinion most people think and say ‘Oh she’s getting black on us’ or ‘That’s the black Christian coming out,'” Bishop said.
The next meeting in the series is scheduled for Sept. 14.