Alumna: ‘Race does matter’

A diverse crowd attended the lecture about black families
Friday, October 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:04 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

MU alumna Velma McBride Murry had a clear message when she spoke Thursday afternoon in MU’s Jesse Wrench Auditorium.

“Race does matter,” she said.

Murry, a professor in the department of child and family development and co-director of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia, delivered the speech to illustrate the effects racism has on African-American families and to show how family attributes can affect the impact of many adolescent risk factors.

The speech, titled “Race, Ethnicity and Social Class Are Not the Same: Diversity within African-American Families,” was the first annual diversity lecture hosted by MU’s department of human development and family studies.

Murry’s speech focused on her investigation of rural African-American families in both Iowa and Georgia. Her research shows that members of upper-class African-American families report a higher level of discrimination than those of a lower socioeconomic status.

She also emphasized that the notion of a one-size-fits-all method of viewing the African-American community was misguided. She broke her research into five socioeconomic groups: non-working poor, working-class poor, working-class non-poor, middle class and upper class.

“(African-American families) are similar but also very diverse,” Murry said.

At the conclusion of her speech, Murry said that a positive relationship with parents directly protected African-American youth from engaging in risky behavior such as experimentation with drugs and sex, and that such a relationship provided the youth with more self-pride.

Murry said her goal was to inform others of something they might not often think about, and that she was happy to share her insight at her alma mater.

“I love this place. I really think it has a progressive way of thinking about social issues that affect our family,” Murry said. “There is a great match between the focus of this department and what I’m interested in.”

A nearly full house — including faculty, students, community leaders and her family — was on hand to hear Murry’s speech.

“Our whole staff is here,” said Constance Bearnes, CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of Missouri Council. “We feel that the only way we can be successful is if we have a mutual understanding with the community we serve. More and more of our programming is in areas where we haven’t served before and we need to do a better job understanding the families in which they live.”

MU faculty and students helped in the development and planning of the event. The department of human development and family studies wanted to insure that it involved not only the campus community, but the community at large.

“We did a lot of advertising,” said Linda Manning, a graduate student in the department. “We wanted to make sure our audience was just as diverse as our subject matter.”

The department plans to continue this series for several years.

“One thing we think is important is to provide the community with information on diversity issues,” said Johnetta Morrison, an associate professor in the department.

According to department professor Marilyn Coleman, the department’s unique niche is family diversity and multiculturalism, and each future lecture will deal with an issue of diversity. The next lecture — tentatively scheduled for October 2005 — will discuss issues concerning the gay and lesbian community, and will be given by Larry Kurdek, a psychology professor from Wright State University in Ohio.

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