This might hurt a little, but that’s OK. You’ll survive and come out better in the end.
A free community storytelling forum focused on Black life in Vancouver will stream online via Zoom today at 6:30 p.m. “Learning to Listen & Lead: Stories from our Black Community” will feature four local speakers talking about growing up here or arriving later to study, work and build meaningful lives — while Black.
The mirror they hold up to Vancouver will prove uncomfortable, event emcee Tyler Monk guaranteed. But discomfort is no reason not to Zoom in and listen. In fact, he said, it’s the best reason.
“These are meant to be uncomfortable conversations,” he said. “Right now, Black folks have the ear of society for the first time in my lifetime. The voices of Black people are being amplified and listened to. We hope people will come to this event with ears to listen.”
Monk is the Clark County director of Ready to Rise, a project that supports students of color and first-generation college students. Monk was invited to coordinate “Learning to Listen & Lead” after speaking at VANtalks, Vancouver’s homegrown version of the innovative, idea-rich lecture series TED Talks. VANtalks is the host of this event.
Four speakers will hold the floor during “Learning to Listen & Lead,” which starts at 6:30 p.m. today. They are Monk; Rashida Willard, vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Clark College; Nathan Webster, a marketing professor and consultant; and Erykah Weems, who attended Vancouver Public Schools before studying public health and becoming a star student athlete at Central Washington University. Weems is now headed for a graduate program in educational equity and social justice at San Francisco State University, she said. (Another scheduled speaker, Arlisa Hinton of Vancouver Public Schools, had to drop out of the program.)
“It’s all about education, for me,” Weems said. She’ll describe her own experience of “how Black and brown girls are treated, and how other minorities are treated as well,” in local public schools, she said.
While this is an ideal time for everyone to reality-check about Black life in a majority-white society, Monk said, the message is nothing new. If you attend, get ready to hear Clark College official Willard express exhaustion at always having to “start the conversation” about racism, justice and equity.
“The social unrest in our country … has been there all along,” says a statement from VANtalks. “Unfortunately, there are still too many people in our community who are unwilling to take off their personal life lens (and) gain clarity from another perspective.
“We ask that you invite a friend or family member to join us. Ask that friend or family who hasn’t taken the time to learn the perspective from a Black person. We encourage you to soften your heart, open your ears and listen.”
Monk added that these four perspectives will be just that: individual takes on a huge, multifaceted subject.
“Don’t take these stories as, this is every Black person’s experience of America,” he said. “Keep listening. Now that you’re listening, listen more.”
When the event is winding up, Monk said, everyone will be challenged to seek solutions and take action.
“What have you learned, what do you feel you can do in your own community?” he asked. “You did the first thing by logging on and listening. What else can you do? There are so many things.”