Heller holds first Sankofa Community Conference on racial justice

June 09, 2020

Slide saying "Sankofa Community Conference: Advancing Racial Justice Through Life and Work
Opening slide for the Sankofa Community Conference (photo by Claire Andrade-Watkins)
Slide that says Closing: Racial Violence from Racial Legacy and Structures, with illustrations saying "Justice for Ahmad, Breonna and George"
Closing slide for the Sankofa Community Conference (photo by Claire Andrade-Watkins)

By Karen Shih

On June 2 and 3, the Heller School held its first Sankofa Community Conference, “Advancing Racial Justice Through Life and Work,” with more than 500 participants over two days.

Callie Watkins Liu, PhD'16, sitting at a computer
Callie Watkins Liu, PhD'17 (Photo by Claire Andrade-Watkins)

The virtual conference, held as communities across the U.S. protested for racial justice and societal change, covered current events, including how structural racism interacts with COVID-19; disability and race; restorative and transformative justice and the need for reparations; and personal stories from people of color about survival through inequality.

Visiting Research Scholar Callie Watkins Liu, PhD’17, who spearheaded the conference, opened by saying that its purpose “is not simply to gain awareness about the existence of racism. We already know that part. The existence of structural racism is not up for discussion or debate. What we are doing here is engaging in the important work of examining different examples of racial injustice and identifying concrete anti-racism steps that we can take individually and collectively to foster a racially just society. Over these two days you will hear 4 different presentations, listen to conversation between the presenters, have some small group conversations and come back together."

The two-day conference was organized by a team that included Kendra Davis, MS/MA SID’21 and 40 other volunteers, including several student moderators.

One of the student moderators was Regina Tham ’20.

Regina Tham '20

“Being able to have the space to hold conversations about racism and how we can dismantle systems of oppression is so important, especially given the recent events in the U.S.,” she says. “I appreciated Dr. Callie's push for the conference to be focused on actions committing to anti-racist work, especially as oftentimes I think that conversations about racism/discrimination end before action steps are generated or personal commitments are made. For next steps I would like to see at Brandeis, I would like to have the administration look introspectively and take resolute steps to committing to be an anti-racist institution. In terms of the world I would like to envision, I want to see systems of oppressions dismantled and funds reallocated to community resources and development. Overall, I deeply valued the presenters taking the time to share their work and voice and I hope that these types of conversations continue.”

The conference was hosted by the Heller School Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity and co-sponsored by the Brandeis Department of African and African-American Studies and the Stonehill College Faculty of Color Association.

For more information about the conference, please contact: hellersankofaconference@gmail.com.