Virtual community conversations

In preparation for our NEA Big Read of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, Shake Rag Alley hosted a series of virtual community conversations relevant to ideas explored within the book. These 1.5 hour Zoom meetings explored issues raised in Claudia Rankine’s work, to be addressed during a deep dive into the text this fall.

Conversations took place over Zoom and featured a guest speaker with knowledge and expertise on the topic being discussed. Audio recordings of these conversations, with links to relevant materials and/or slides are provided below.

Dr. Michael Thornton spoke on how racial concepts impact policing nationwide and in Wisconsin. He offered insight and data on current practices as well as an overview of policing culture, history and theories.

Use the slides below to follow along during Professor Thornton’s talk.

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Systemic Racism & Education: Jessica Fleischmann

Jessica Fleischmann teaches math and science at JC Wright Middle School. After completing two Associate Degrees at Madison College, Jessica completed her B.A. at UW-Madison and earned a Masters in Education through Edgewood College.

In addition to considering systemic racism in education, Jessica is willing to share insights drawn from engaging youth of all ages in conversations about race.

In the panel discussion Disrupting Systemic Racism in Education Jessica and four other educators discuss how systemic racism manifests within K-12 education and its impact upon teachers and students.

In the discussion on Solidarity and Support in Times of Racial Violence and Injustice Jessica and other panelists reflect on how schools choose to respond to racism and how predominately white school communities can best engage students in relevant conversations centered on race.

Toby, Tom, Lear, Jim, and Joe — to better understand our local and state history and its impact on our communities today, we will learn the names and stories of these enslaved African Americans brought to our region by Henry Dodge, the future first governor of the Wisconsin Territory. Prior to the discussion, please watch the 33-minute lecture on Black Suffrage, by UW-Wisconsin Associate Professor Christy Clark Pujara or read the transcript.

To quote Prof. Clark-Pujara: “History is personal, and it’s with us every day. It is one of the things that makes us human. We are the only species that care about, argue about, write about, debate our history. … So to deny a people their history is to do a great violence. The history of suffrage in Wisconsin is a history fraught with racism and sexism. Access to the ballot box has been a contentious issue in this state from its founding. We need to understand the regulations of voting within historical context. Which begs the questions: Why did we implement a voter ID law, and who is affected by these laws? Our history must inform and illuminate our presence.”

Brian Benford grew up “between the Afrocentric inner city of Milwaukee during the height of the civil rights movement and the bucolic, all-white farm community of Fort Atkinson.” He chose to make Madison his adult home because he believed it “melded the best qualities of small-town living with the potential for diversity.” Now, having “spent close to thirty years working in community-based organizations seeing firsthand the challenges and suffering that so many low-income people of color endure on a daily basis,” Brian views Madison differently. He shares his shifting awareness in this essay written in response to the police-involved shooting death of Tony Robinson in 2015.

During the Zoom Discussion we had a chance to ask Brian how recent events further shape his experience and understanding of the issues raised in his essay. We also considered the meaning of Juneteenth, how a nation constructs a cohesive identity when citizens must carry disparate freedom narratives, and what it might take to change the racial imaginary. Unfortunately, this meeting was not recorded.