JACKSON, Mich — A group of Spring Arbor University students traveled down the Mississippi River this summer to have conversations about race. They stopped in nine cities from Minneapolis to New Orleans.
The project, a partnership with Oberlin College, also resulted in a short film, “American Neighbor: A Courageous Conversation about Race in America.” Spring Arbor University will show it virtually on Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“America has been so polarized," Spring Arbor Chief Diversity Officer Kevin Brown said. "We don’t talk to each other. We don’t listen. We fail to truly listen to understand one another so we launched this initiative.”
The trip started on July 22, just two months after George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
According to Elizabeth Stewart and Noah Austin, students who took part in the trip and the conversations, there were a couple of instances that really stood out.
“There was a moment in St. Louis, where I think all of us remember," said Austin, 20, who is studying philosophy at Spring Arbor.
Two older gentlemen, one white and one black, got into a heated argument over race relations.
“They started to spar with each other verbally,” Austin said. “The purpose of the trip was to have people listen to each other and to let people listen to each others’ stories and to understand there are different perspectives.”
But their visits weren’t all like that.
One man told the group that “he had grown up in a pretty racist setting,” said Austin. “A family that lived in a pretty racist way. He was just now coming to terms and confrontation with that. He came to listen and came to learn, and came to ask himself what he could do to reshape himself in terms of racism.”
Their goal of showing the film is to bring people to closer, Stewart said.
“I hope people would learn to articulate their experiences in the form of a story so that people can understand and, also people that are on that listening end that listening side, that they would take the time to learn to listen really well," said Stewart, a 24-year-old senior communications studies major, "and see that there is value in learning someone else’s experience and the truth in someone else’s experience."
Brown said that race is "either talked about or not across our country. And it makes people where they are in terms with the subject and the topic. So, for me it’s part of my work as the chief diversity officer at Spring Arbor to develop the tools for the community to prepare our students throughout and be leaders in the world.”
The film will be followed by a discussion. Those interested in attending you can sign up at https://arbor.regfox.com/american-neighbor-alumni--friends-viewing
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