On Saturday, Oct. 12, another curtain came down on a successful MAAFA Conference held at Laramie County Community College.
MAAFA means “the scattering of people,” in reference to the African people who were forced from their homes centuries ago and brought to the Americas. They suffered the indignities of slavery, but many endured and helped build this country, something barely acknowledged in the history books.
Those who attended were impressed with the jam-packed program of educational presentations, plus singing while partaking in delicious food. The conference was organized by the SANKOFA African Heritage Awareness. SANKOFA is another African word, meaning “back to the source.”
The theme of the conference this year was “Cultural Pluralisms, Diversities and Education to Respect Differences,” calling on America to wake up, speak up and stand up.
The conference started with the presentation of the national anthem, played by the young African American flutist Janelle Atkinson, and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by all those present. The Rev. Tim Solon gave a contrition to Native Americans for all the atrocities committed against their cultures and their personhoods.
The LCCC choir sang some African songs, and after some introductions and other pleasantries, Pastor Catherine Fitzhugh gave a moving presentation about slavery, including the indentured European slavery. But her most tear jerking and sad part of the presentation was recounting the sharks following the slave ships. The sharks were fed human slaves thrown overboard because of being sick, lame or rebelling against the ship’s crew, who lost their humanity.
My presentation was titled “(Un)Welcome to America: Historical and Present Immigration Practices.” In that presentation, I traced the history of immigration from the Laissez Faire period of open immigration for Europeans to the present period of moving toward complete shutdown of immigrants with some exceptions.
Scientific studies debunked the myths about immigrants “taking our jobs,” “being a fiscal burden,” “being crime prone,” “not integrating well” and other myths advanced by politicians out of hate and fear, and sometimes for naked political gain.
I concluded the presentation by saying that through the centuries, immigrants have proven to be a strength to this nation, fought its wars, helped build its economy and became strong defender of its values. This political war on immigrants and asylum seekers should stop.
James Peebles’ presentation about racism and racist ideas was a tough subject to broach, as he stated, but it needs to be addressed and discussed. He defined racism as the practice of racial discrimination and segregation, and a racist as one who supports racism by means of policies, through their actions or inaction, or expressing racist ideas.
He gave some examples of racism, such as believing that blacks are less intelligent and lazy, leading to the racist ideas of not hiring them as teachers or hiring them last. He concluded by saying that, sadly, racism is still winning.
Nate Breen, who serves on the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees and Wyoming State Board of Education, gave a presentation titled “Civic Education and Educating to Respect Differences.” He emphasized the need for civic education, relating the fact that only 26% of Americans can name all three branches of government.
He defined civic skills by saying “they include intellectual and participatory skills, which will enable the student to use knowledge to think and act effectively and in a reasoned manner in response to the challenges of life in a constitutional democracy.” He emphasized that the knowledge of civic education enables one in a democracy to have the responsibility as a citizen to recognize the rights of other individuals and respect them.
This annual conference’s goal of educating and celebrating diversity was a great success, and Cheyenne needs more of these educational conferences.