Anti-racism activist Elliott brings message to Tallahassee


Author Phyllis Lawson, who also is a genealogist, displays a quilt that she uses to track her family ties. Photos by Eric Friall

Stephon Williams makes a point to the audience after some of the audience was tied up in bungee cords.

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Using humor and constant interaction with her audience, renowned anti-racism activist Jane Elliott brought her mantra to Tallahassee this past week.

Throughout her conversation, she emphasized how misunderstanding or mistreating someone because of their skin color is the result of a myth.

She set out to prove that there is only one race – the human race – taking the sparse crowd in the auditorium at FAMU’s School of Pharmacy through an exercise.
The crowd seemingly was astonished when she got finished.

“Anybody here who considers themselves a member of the White race, stand up,” she said.

There wasn’t a soul sitting  except a man in a wheelchair.

Elliott went on.

“Anybody here who considers themselves a member of the Black race, stand up.”

By now the entire room was standing. But she wasn’t done.

“Anyone considers themself a member of the brown race, the yellow race, red race?”

The audience seemed stumped by the 83-year-old former school teacher, who used a brown eye, blue eye experiment almost 50 years ago to demonstrate how racism affected a class of people.

“Now everyone who considers themselves part of the human race, sit down.”

Everyone did exactly that.

“There is only one race on the face of the Earth,” Elliott said, as she sized up her audience. “There is no such thing as a Black race, a White race. There is only one race, the human race, and you are all part of it.”

Elliott headlined a group of speakers that took part in a diversity and inclusion forum presented by the 100 Black Men of Tallahassee. The topics covered by the other speakers clearly were a prelude to Elliott’s provoking conversation.

The four speakers before her shared stories to demonstrate how society views Blacks. It started with David Jackson, Jr. who gave a historical point of view on inequality, racism and the lack of diversity.

Author Phyllis Lawson delved into her book “Quilt of Souls,” chronicling racism that her ancestors endured.

Lucia “Lucy” McBath, whose son, Jordan Davis was fatally shot at a Jacksonville gas station during an argument over loud music five years ago, spoke of how guns are being used to kill young Black men. Since her son’s death, she’s taken on a campaign, becoming the spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Retired Master Sergeant Stephon Williams presented an interactive session with insight on diversity management and human relations.

“If you don’t change something, you stay in the same cycle,” said Williams, who used bungee cords to have members of the audience tie themselves together to make his point. “If you had it in the workforce or college it doesn’t matter. If the people are still in a cycle of self-destructive behavior, that’s that cycle. We get caught up and stop making progress.”

It didn’t take long for the audience to get engaged with each speaker. However, they almost didn’t get the opportunity.

Col. Ronald Joe, immediate past president of 100 Black Men Tallahassee chapter, said he considered cancelling the conversation because of a low turnout.

“These are powerful people; people who in their souls are committed to having everyone be one,” Joe said, admitting afterward that he was glad he didn’t pull the plug. “They have flown or driven from long distances and to bring them into an auditorium where it was sparse I felt extremely disappointed that more people weren’t here.”

By the time Elliott began her 45-minute speech, the audience had a clear sense of where the conversation was going. From the outset, she pricked the crowd’s consciousness by saying a Black man was first on earth.

At times she brought the crowd to laughter as she assailed President Donald Trump for what she calls “racial cleansing.”

“We have been led down a really, really disgusting path in the last six months,” Elliott said. “I don’t know whether we realize how dangerous (this) is for all of us. We cannot have them continue this racial cleansing. This has to stop.”

She made her point by asking what other color the first man could have been if he was created from the black earth. She brought that up while making her point to illustrate the injustice of racism, including the educational system.

“If you think I’m lying about that all you have to do is get any social study book, history book and you will see you have been systematically conditioned to the  myth of White superiority,” she said. “It is a myth just as surely the Greeks believed that the sun was a god.”

Asked afterward if she realized that she might have offended some of her audience, Elliott wasn’t apologetic.

“What we have is chaos but we don’t call it that right now,” she said. “We could have peace if we could see each other as equal humans.”

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