Friday, June 14, 2024

Minister sparks discourse about race

The fourth Thursday of every month is a time for discussion in the Plattsburgh United Methodists Church, sponsored by the Protestant Campus Ministry. This week’s topic: racism and injustices in our society today. Upon arrival, all guest are directed to the chapel and greeted by Protestant Campus Minister, Phil Richards. Richards discussed why he and the ministry introduced these new events.

“The reason we are holding it is to begin conversations around some of the issues that our country is facing today,” Richards said. “And also to engage, not only the community at large, but also the students at SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College in a conversation.”

This event is fairly new, therefore, there have not been many discussions yet, but Richards talks about the past topic.

Richards said how this month’s topic revolved around current events, such as the march in Charlottesville, Virginia, Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem and police brutality.

“It seems to be engaging the students in great conversation, last month we had a wonderful conversation, about 10 students showed up from SUNY Plattsburgh.” Richards said.
Richards explained his inspiration to host these monthly events.

“A recognition that students and young people really want to be engaged in conversation, and also social activism,” Richards said.

Shortly after the discussion began, J.W Wiley, chief diversity officer of PSUC, opened with a statement to his audience: “I don’t talk; I create conversations.”
This meant that after he showed the clip that the conversation was up to his audience.

The first clip that was shown was from a film called “The Tuskegee airmen”, a film about men of color attempting to join the airforce. In the clip, the men were ordered off the train to make room for incoming white people and German Nazi prisoners. At this scene, the video was paused and one of the attendees shared a story about growing up in the fifties, she remembered being told to exit the train due to people of color entering. The next scene showed the black men being told “This ain’t your country.” Wiley then shared his view of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I understood racism when I was 12 years old from reading my sister’s high school books, so I never had a reason to put my hand over my heart and swear allegiance to a flag.. The only time I put my hand over my heart was when President Obama was elected.” Wiley said. “I knew that the Star Spangled Banner wasn’t about me.”

The discussion then goes toward last year’s election results: the victory of Donald Trump. One attendee said that every time she thinks this country is on the verge of change, it disappoints her.
“Couldn’t believe it..every time I give this country the benefit of the doubt it hurts me,” Wiley said. “What am I going to tell my daughters?”

Wiley’s next clip was from the film, “42”, a film that tells the story of Jackie Robinson. The clip showed Robinson getting harassed by a player on the opposing team who is yelling racial slurs. After the clip, some shared their opinion, many said that he was a brave man. Wiley chimed in with his opinion on why Robinson died when he did.

“Jackie died at 53. Imagine the stress that was on him.” Wiley said.

After the clips, the conversation began to stress how important it is to educate children on these issues. A man who lives in Plattsburgh, who wanted to be referred to as only “Chaz” shared his thoughts on the matter.

“Why can’t we educate the entire generation about humanity?” Chaz said, “ we need to start early…kindergarten, first grade, second grade and so on”
As a closing statement, Wiley showed one last clip, “A Subway Story”, which involves him telling a story about how he confronted a family for laughing at a woman who had a strong odor on a train that he was on.

“Rage built up inside me, I had to respond” Wiley explained. “She is obviously struggling and it’s not funny….she was ashamed.”

The emotional Wiley then wished everybody a good night as he prepared to take the few students from his class, who attended the meeting, out to dinner. This event will be held each last thursday of the month (except this month due to Thanksgiving) and will have a new topic ready for discussion.

Wiley was only one guest, there are many more to come as the topics change. With the world we live in, it is safe to say that the Plattsburgh United Methodist Church discussions will never run out of things to talk about.

Email Mataeo Smith at

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