When it comes to approaching racism, Brittany Packnett’s message is simple: We must all bend the moral arc toward justice.
Students and faculty attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration on campus Jan. 16, where Packnett, the keynote speaker of the two-day event, spoke on racism and ways to break false beliefs.
Packnett, an activist, educator, and leader in social justice, is the vice president of National Community Alliances for Teach for America. She also is the co-founder of Campaign Zero, a comprehensive policy platform to end police violence.
Packnett discussed a meeting she had with former President Barack Obama. As a former member of the Ferguson Commission, an independent group appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, she received a call from the White House, insisting she come to the District of Columbia for an “important meeting.”
While there, Packnett had the opportunity, alongside other members of the committee, to listen to Obama as he shared his thoughts and feelings about racial injustices. She went on to talk about how Obama showed them an original framed program from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Through extensive historical research and her own experiences with racism in society today, Packnett emphasized that there is still much work to do before the “dream is fulfilled.”
“If hate crimes rose nearly 20 percent in major cities in 2017, how can we dare stop bending the arc toward justice?” Packnett said. “In my own mother’s life, legal discrimination of people of color only ended 35 years ago. That’s less than some of you have been alive.”
Packnett further emphasized the idea of being comfortable with being uncomfortable in the pursuit of moral justice.
“If your impulse is to act for justice, then you’ll have to be okay with being unpopular,” she said. “Freedom work will always be more important than it is popular. If your impulse is toward justice, then don’t wait for people to like you.”
Emphasizing that the foundation of racism is weaker than we think, Packnett clarified that one way to deal with prejudice and racism is as simple as asking a racist a question of why they believe what they believe.
“I find that curiosity is a more effective weapon for truth than judgement,” Packnett said. “Every time I’ve asked why, and shared why their why might be based on misinformation, the belief breaks.”
Kyle Reyes, vice president of Student Affairs, shared his thoughts on the commemoration.
“This is exactly what we had hoped for when we selected Brittany to come speak… To address the question of ‘what happened to the dream?’” Reyes said. “I thought she simultaneously gave us a history lesson and gave us an inspirational call to action.”
President of UVU’s Black Student Union, Stormey Nielsen, spoke about reaching out to Packnett.
“We wanted new faces because this is a new time,” Nielsen said. “We wanted that youth and we wanted that diversity. We wanted to know, what does this look like moving forward?”