Grand Rapids Community College welcomed radio host Michele Norris and her conversation on race as part of the 2013-2014 Diversity Lecture Series.
Around 1,000 people gathered Wednesday at the Fountain Street Church to listen to Norris’ lecture titled “Eavesdropping on America’s Conversation on Race.” It encouraged the audience to consider the topic on a new perspective and think about race’s meaning and value.
Norris explained how her research began with the purpose of studying America’s views on race during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Her investigations allowed her to discover stories on race from her own family that were kept from her for years. This changed the course of her research and led her to write her book “The Grace of Silence: A Family Memoir.”
Norris shared these family stories with the public. She told the story of her father who was shot in the leg by a white policeman. She told the story of her grandmother, whom had to work as a representative of the Aunt
Jemima brand while dressed as a slave. These stories, hidden by her older relatives, allowed her family to “understand where (they) came from.”
The audience also learned about Norris’ Race Card Project, which developed in order to include America as a whole in the conversation about race.
“I saw the possibility that maybe these conversations about these difficult things could be part of our wealth as a country as well,” said Norris.
The Race Card Project consists in participants sharing their thoughts on race using only a six-word sentence. As the project developed and more people were involved on it “their discussion deepened, and people would reveal a little bit more about themselves,” said Norris.
Participants started to share the story behind the six words they had chosen. Norris used the sentence “I apologize to Sue’s family” as one of the examples. This was the story of a girl who found out that Sue had been “given” to her grandmother to work for her in South Carolina even after slavery was over.
The project has expanded over time and it involves participants from the United States and 52 other countries.
During an interview prior to the lecture, Norris shared her own six words, which were, “Still more work to be done.” She explained that the meaning behind the sentence refers that society needs to keep working “to move us forward and to find ourselves as individuals and as a country.”
The audience responded positively to Norris’ speech and ideas. During the question and answer session that followed the speech, several members of the audience stood up to share their own six-word sentence. The statements varied in their meaning and background. Even those that didn’t keep to six words were included. Some of them were “I am a mixed kid, can you tell?” “My family is a little different now,” and even “I don’t know what to write.”