On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the University of Montevallo President’s Office hosted “Better Together: A Conversation on Race and Law Enforcement” in LeBaron Recital Hall.
The numerous racial conflicts across the country this summer inspired UM President Dr. John W. Stewart III and UM trustees Brian Hamilton and LeRoy Nix to hold the symposium. Cedric Norman, assistant director of Student Life, and Director of Executive Affairs Kristy Lee also played a major role in organizing the event.
The symposium featured a varied lineup of state and community leaders as guest panelists. These included Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Director of Minority Affairs for Governor Robert Bentley’s Office Nichelle Nix, Reverend Arthur Price, Jr. of the 16th Street Baptist Church, Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange.
The 250 capacity recital hall quickly filled with UM students, faculty, staff and residents of the community, leaving only standing room by the event’s start.
Christopher Nanni, the president and CEO of Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, served as moderator of the event. Throughout the event, Nanni asked the panelists prepared questions concerning the influence of Black Lives Matter, implicit bias and solutions toward peace.
“It is through listening and understanding one another’s perspective that we can engage in meaningful dialogue,” said Nanni. “I hope that we can begin this process, or at least understand the process, as a result of the panel discussion.”
Additionally, McNair Scholar Charmella Williams asked questions submitted by the UM student body.
A common theme throughout the discussion was the subject of trust. Each panelist described that trust is what bridges the dangerous gap of miscommunication between law enforcement and minority communities.
Samaniego stated it’s the role of police officers to have already obtained the trust of the community before a controversial situation ever takes place.
Bell and Price both recounted personal stories of experiencing and dealing with bias first hand. However, they made it clear that though the justice system can work against minorities, officers also have an extremely demanding job.
At the event’s end, Nanni provided four tips to continue the conversation beyond the walls of LeBaron. These tips were to create meaningful relationships, recognize privilege, breach personal comfort zones and move beyond tolerance.
As the event concluded, audience members made their way to the stage to greet the night’s guests with handshakes after an evening full of partnership and conversation.