Story by Cassie Sistoso / Assitant News Editor
Photos via MTSU
On Thursday, Middle Tennessee State University’s MT Engage hosted a variety of events for “Communities Surviving Together: Communicating and Working for Social and Racial Justice During a Pandemic.”
One of which is a panel event of local activists in the Middle Tennessee area that spoke to inform and answer questions attendees had about how to better understand and serve their community.
Focused primarily on diversity and inclusivity, panel members were curated from racial activist leaders in Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and Nashville.
From a Nashville attorney to an MTSU professor, the panel collectively had an insurmountable amount of experience and knowledge that applies to current events and the effects of the pandemic on compromised communities in Middle Tennessee.
Included on this panel was Joseph Gutierrez, a Filipino-American director of the Asian & Pacific Islander Association of Middle Tennessee. Smiling and interactive with his audience, Gutierrez was clearly passionate about his current work, speaking with animation as he urged his listeners to “tell [their] story, or someone else will.”
Gutierrez utilizes this mantra with his work in API, creating space for the below 3 percent population of Asian-Americans in the Middle Tennessee area to tell these stories and champion others’ stories to “make Tennessee a space for all.”
Panelist and justice advocate Joyce Washington also shared this fervor for inclusion and the importance of community and individual histories in her representation of Black Lives Matter and the Black community in Middle Tennessee.
Reaching out to the diverse audience at this event, Washington encouraged her listeners to understand the importance of consistency in engaging with the community. Working within book clubs and local protests, Washington relayed how important “holding space for transformation” is and that any work for social and racial justice involves “coming to this work with our hearts and not our heads.”
However, this sentiment did not exclude logistical aspects of how to approach social reform and justice as a form of discussion.
Both Chandra Story, Professor and Tennessee Health Disparity Task Force Member, Representative Harold Love of District 58, and Attorney and professor Andrae Crimson of Vanderbilt University and Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee expanded on tangible forms of action that have already been taken to accommodate and aid social and legal forms of change for minorities in the pandemic.
Story works in Tennessee health disparities, “providing warning signs and education to resolve mental health issues,” as she described it. Crimson also fell into the line of constant education to students and the community and shared how legal issues are also human rights issues.
“Legal is the vehicle to enforce rights.”Andrae Crimson
After explaining their respective roles in the community, the board opened up the rest of the panel time for discussion and questions from the audience. From topics like police brutality to working families and the poverty line, panelists answered each with genuine interest and thought.
The discussion only highlighted how connected each individual has become to their community and how COVID has been beneficial in creating a baseline of equality. State Representative Harold Love emphasized this.
He said, “For many years, we have negatively stigmatized government assistance…but COVID-19 leveled it out. Now everyone is experiencing a delay in government response. Now everyone is experiencing what it is like to rely on bureaucracy…and wait in a food line. COVID exposed that you can be two or three paychecks away from needing help.”
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