Measuring the Dream Symposium

Student Reflections
June 19, 2017

As implied by the name, the symposium looked at measuring the progress towards MLK’s dream of equality for all people from the core of the Civil Rights Era to current day, 2017. Presenters discussed the theme from diverse perspectives including Education, Health, Criminal Justice and Civic Engagement. With the members of our tables, we were asked to cite policy, organization strategies and progress made in relation to racial equality for every frame presented. We were asked to understand what “the dream” truly implied and if we, as a nation, allowed for the dream to flourish. We considered the idea of racism. What it is to be racist, or moreover, what exactly is racism? Per Dr. Camara Jones, racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (race), that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, and unfairly advantages others, but caps the strength of a society as a whole. Looking deeper, Dr. Jones said there are 3 levels of racism: institutionalized, personally- mediated, and internalized. Institutionalized racism is the differing access to goods, services, and opportunities of society by race. personally-mediated racism is the differing assumptions of abilities, motives, and intents of others by race. Altogether, internalized racism is the acceptance by the stigmatized races of the negative messages about their own abilities and intrinsic worth.

Under the umbrella of institutionalized racism, poor black communities have consistently been put second to wealthier white communities. Highways have been constructed through black communities, as with Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue as example, splitting communities and destroying their businesses.  Members of black communities have been used as test subjects, such as with the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment which lasted from 1932-1972, and black communities have consistently faced voter suppression due to various oppressive policies and lack of accessibility. With lack of protected voting rights, black communities have struggled to overcome oppressive realities in order to have their voices and desires heard. As supposedly coined by Michael Enzi, “if you are not at the table you are on the menu.” Beginning with the slave trade and into modern day, U.S, black communities have been targeted to benefit the wallets of those in power. Though slavery does not exist today as it did before the Civil War, the modern prison system takes the place of imprisoning black communities as slavery had done. In fact, the current U.S. prison system incarcerates more black men now than were enslaved in 1850. Additionally, black communities tend to have underfunded schools, lower quality water systems, and a lack of access to quality food markets. Lack of power in government leads to these communities encountering high risks, lighter regulations, and further oppression. For example, black communities tend to have higher densities of liquor stores in their communities, which also tend to be closer to schools than in white communities.

All these issues, along with others, have led to the existence of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. According to their website, Black Lives Matter was created in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin and is a call to action and response to the anti-black racism permeated in society. The movement affirms that all Black lives are important; female, queer, trans, disabled, undocumented, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Though mass media attempts to frame the movement as an anti-white hate group, that image could not be further from the truth. Black Lives Matter is a movement working to break down the barriers implemented by society in order to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of an equal America, where every member of society can be “free at last.”

As an engineering student at Georgia Tech, I rarely encounter lectures around structural racism unless I seek them out on my own. By attending this symposium, I learned about modern, institutionalized racism, how prisons make money from incarcerating communities, and differences in life opportunities and even access to healthcare solely due to the community and race into which a person is born. I learned that Edmund Pettus, the man for whom the bridge MLK marched over in Selma is named after, was a Grand Dragon of the KKK. I saw maps which displayed the lack of housing integration throughout the United States in 2017 and I was given a better understanding of what happens when it is a citizen’s obligation to register themselves to vote rather than their states’. I saw statistics proving that a child born poor will most likely die poor as well. Putting together the information I learned, I continue to question whether the United States is a land of opportunity and justice for all. Settlers came to the Americas fleeing persecution in order to build a nation for those in need. Yet, 400 years later when members of this nation of- freedom speak up for their needs they are immediately shut down and silenced by those in power. Are we an equal society? Or is “equality” only a prize at the end of a treadmill? Run faster or turn it off.

Ariella Ventura is an industrial engineering major from Long Island, New York.

“The world is evenly balanced between good and evil and your next act will tip the scale.”

                                                                                                              -Rabbi Hillel

Entering the Measuring the Dream Symposium, I was not sure what to expect. I knew that we would of course be discussing disparities and issues due to race prejudice in the present day; however, I did not expect the abundance of perspectives and evidence I would receive on manifestations of inequity between races today. There is something awe-inspiring about sitting in a room of professionals who are all working toward the same goal but have so many different backgrounds and ideas about how to get there.

The day began with a quick tour of the Center for Civil and Human Rights – a stark reminder of the focus of the day and a great way to refresh ourselves on the beginning ideas behind the progress we were measuring. Each session throughout the day was engaging and, frankly, eye-opening: it is easy to forget the extent of injustice in the world when attending an institution which is more forward thinking than many and continuously raises awareness about these issues.

Two panels in particular stuck out to me: the first, which focused on Education, and the last, which focused on Criminal Justice. I would like to throw out just a few quotes from the sessions:

“13% of black students are rated proficient in math in 8th grade.”

“There are more people in jail awaiting trial than in the entire federal prison system.”

“We incarcerate more people than we enslaved at the height of slavery.”

…and finally, a disturbing link between the two…

“The government takes 3rd grade pass/fail rates as a way to predict how much prison space will be needed in a certain number of years.”

These statistics and quotes demonstrated, to me, just how deeply society has ingrained a connection between race (specifically black in this example) and inequity. If we begin judging a person’s future based on their third grade spelling scores, how can we possibly continue to say that we are becoming more open-minded or progressing as a society? A major point of the day was that change can be influenced from the top down, but changing the foundation of how we view and treat each other starts with the beginning years of life. A sidewalk can be built from a poor child’s house to a library, but unless we encourage the child to use it and make sure every child respects that they have equal rights to the sidewalk, the children who are already walking will crowd him out.

We have certainly made progress from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream Speech”, but in order to complete our progress I feel that we need to recognize these systematic processes that put individuals and entire races at disadvantages for life. The Measuring the Dream symposium was thought-provoking and a thorough refresher on the progress we have made and have yet to make. I do not believe a single person left without quite a bit to think about.

Delany Rickles is a civil and environmental engineering major from Georgia.  She works as a student assistant in the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain.