MU forum participants say continuing Trayvon Martin conversation important

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 | 5:10 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Mizzou Black Men's Initiative member Timothy Jones said that it is important to continue the dialogue that began during a discussion about racism Monday night. 

"It's not effective if we don't take it outside and initiate the conversation," Jones said. "Through communication we can educate."

In light of the aftermath of the death of Trayvon Martin, the Mizzou Black Men's Initiative hosted a discussion on the implications of racism and stereotyping of black men in America.

Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on February 26 by George Zimmerman in a gated community in Sanford Fla. Zimmerman said he shot the unarmed Martin in self-defense.

Nathan Stephens, coordinator of the Mizzou Black Men's Initative and Black Culture Center senior coordinator, facilitated the discussion and began with a presentation on the portrayals of black men by society throughout history.

Stephens' presentation focused on different points in American history, such as slavery and the civil rights movement. He then discussed contemporary events and what can be done to end the perpetuation of racial stereotypes and other misinformation.

"The persistence of certain images that have gone from slavery all the way to hip hop and Trayvon Martin — that are persistent in our society — are going to occur until we have the gumption and fortitude to address some of this," Stephens said. 

Another discussion participant Rashad Bailey agreed with Stephens. 

"We need to have these conversations because you can't fix a problem if you don't acknowledge it," Bailey said.

Stephens hoped that the discussion would create and promote awareness of the roles and implications stereotypes can have today, which Stephens said can be seen in the case of Trayvon Martin.

"These things are all unfortunately connected by the perceptions and beliefs and the values and norms that we have about black males, that black males have about each other and that different groups and demographics have about each other," Stephens said.

Stephens also said that it is important for people to be aware of the perceptions they have of other people.

"That's what I think we all need to do individually and collectively as a society," Stephens said, "is become more aware of our own biases and our own prejudices."

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