AUSTIN (KXAN) — Monday night the LBJ foundation is bringing together community leaders, activists and public servants for the first in a three-day Summit on Race in America.
Attendance to the Summit is free and open to the public.
The summit, happening at the LBK auditorium at the UT Austin campus is billed as a “seminal event” to “explore our nation’s continuing racial divide and struggle for racial equality.” This is the first event of it’s kind for the LBJ Foundation.
On Monday, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughters, Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb, kicked off the night with readings from their father’s speeches.
Luci Baines Johnson read from her father’s transcript from the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964:
“My fellow citizens, we have come now to a time of testing,” Baines Johnson recited. “We must not fail.
Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole.”
She noted the day the Civil Rights Act was signed was her 17th birthday.
“No one will ever get a greater present,” she said.
Mark K. Updegrove, President and CEO of the LBJ Foundation, applied the words in that speech to 2019.
“Today despite the strides we’ve made toward civil rights, we find ourselves in what LBJ might have called a time of testing, a time when bigotry and racism are on the rise, threatening to compromise the dignity of our fellow citizens, erode our democracy, and define our age,” Updegrove said. “President Johnson’s words and deeds half a century ago are a clarion call.”
Civil rights activist Dolores Huerta (who started the National Farm Workers Association alongside César E. Chávez) had a conversation about the significance of past civil rights movements to the present with former aide to Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young ( who is also the former mayor of Atlanta, a former U.N. Ambassador, and a former U.S. Congressional representative).
The two talked about how to combat the rise in white supremacy and the ways activism now is different than in years past.
“The things they have today, that we didn’t have when we started, are our devices, our cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, so they can get the message out there very rapidly, ” Huerta said ” The other thing is everything has to be transparent, they can find out where the money’s at, who’s backing who, so I feel very hopeful.”
While also optimistic, Young worried, “the leadership, instead of bringing us together, is dividing us.”
When asked how to avoid resentment from groups who feel left out, he responded, speaking from his experience working in the city of Atlanta: “You construct your democracy so it that represents every facet of our society.”
Huerta, who said she is a few days shy of 89-years-old, closed out the conversation by cheering out to the crowd: “Who’s got the power?”
“We’ve got the power!” the crowd chanted back.
“What kind of power?” Huerta called out.
“People power!” the crowd chanted back.
Houston Police Chief (and former Austin Police Chief) Art Acevedo spoke with civil rights activist and organizer DeRay McKesson about the divide between minority communities and law enforcement. Their conversation was passionate, while Acevedo would not concede to certain points McKesson made — such as the abolition of the prison system — both were candid about their differing points of view.
“We have a system that’s predicated on punishment,” McKesson said, explaining that when children are punished in school, they are sent to the office and not locked away by themselves. He wondered why the criminal justice system is hinged on locking people away by themselves as opposed to linking them up to the services they need.
“I think what people are saying is, ‘I want to be safe,’ the police are always coming after the trauma,” McKesson added.
Acevedo responded, “I feel like this generation of cops, to a certain extent, are paying for the sins of their fathers.”
While Acevedo indicated part way through he felt the conversation had gone “awry”, both continued along with the discussion.
“I think that part of what you need to do is stop using broad brushes –whether we’re talking about the police or we’re talking about people of color or we’re talking about Muslims — we’ve got to put the broad brushes away, not judge people through their socioeconomic standing not judge people based on the profession they chose, but judge people through the content of their heart and the quality of their interactions with the people that they serve,” Acevedo said.
“I want to acknowledge that the spirit of that makes sense to me,” McKesson said. But he pointed out that regardless of the number of “bad actors” in law enforcement, the families of those killed at the hands of law enforcement still feel pain.
“Stephon Clark’s family isn’t worried about that, right? Rekia Boyd’s family is not worried about that, Tamir [Rice]’s family, the families of people who get killed are not like,’you know what, there’s just a couple of bad officers,'” McKesson said.
Highlights from the Summit on Tuesday:
- Brittany Packnett ( Co-host of Pod Save the People and Teach for America’s Vice President of National Community Alliances )
- Bryan Stevenson (Founder and Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative)
- Madeline Albright (the first female U.S. Secretary of State)
- Cristina Tzintzún Ramírez (Founder and Executive Director, Jolt)
- Wyclef Jean (GRAMMY Award-winning Musician)
- Sasheer Zamata (Comedian and Former Cast Member of Saturday Night Live)
- George Lopez (Comedian, Actor, and Producer)
- Valerie Jarrett (former senior advisor to President Obama)
Highlights from the Summit on Wednesday:
- Jamie Azure (Tribal Chairman, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians)
- Julieta Garibay (Texas Director and Co-Founder, United We Dream)
- Austin Mayor Steve Adler
- Glenn E. Singleton (Author and Creator of Courageous Conversation)
- Yamiche Alcindor (White House Correspondent, PBS NewsHour)
- Duke Fakir (Founding Member of The Four Tops)
- Claudette Robinson (Member of The Miracles)
- Mary Wilson (Founding Member of The Supremes)
- Bob Santelli (Founding Executive Director, GRAMMY Museum)
Speakers and moderators from UT Austin and Huston-Tillotson University will also take part.