Race and friendship strong themes at Community Dinner

Lindsay Byrnes, Staff Writer

Each month the University hosts a community dinner open to all students and faculty members who are interested in discussing meaningful issues that affect the campus and community. These dinners are intended to create a more inclusive campus climate and to celebrate the diversity of community members.

This month’s dinner was held on Sept. 29 in the Walls Lounge of the Elaine Langone Center. Students and faculty members discussed the issues of race and friendship, and how these two entities connect.

The discussion began with two powerful presentations by professional musicians and race relations experts, Arno Michaelis and Daryl Davis. Michaelis spoke first about his transformation from a racist member of a skinhead, hate-metal band, to an advocate of peace and diversity.

After growing up filled with hate and rage, Michaelis admitted to channeling his anger into music and violence aimed at people who were different than him. He sang hate songs with his band Centurion and recruited new white supremacist skinheads to join his crew. After nearly seven years of involvement in the white supremacy movement, Michaelis said he realized that he needed to stop aiming his hatred at people who did not deserve it. He quit the movement and began to turn his life around.

Michaelis is now an advocate of diversity, peace, and forgiveness. He travels around the United States sharing his story and message with others.

After Michaelis, Davis took the stage. Davis is a musician who grew up traveling around the world, and he shared his experiences with race and hatred in the United States. 

“I have been to 53 countries and six continents. I have been shaped by so many other races, religions, cultures, and places,” Davis said in his introduction.

With his worldly view, Davis said he was baffled by the racism that existed during his childhood spent in the United States. He asked the question, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” to try and figure out the root of why racism exists.

To gain insight to this question, Davis decided to find and interview members of the Ku Klux Klan. He discussed one of his many conversations with different Klan members, as well as his attendance at Klan rallies and dinners with Klan members.

The idea of a black man conversing and interacting with Klan members shocked many, including the CNN reporters who told Davis’s story. Davis proved, however, that two parties with vastly different beliefs can still respect each other’s opinions.

When both speakers finished, the student facilitators asked attendees to write down on an index card their five best friends on campus and then to write what these friendships all had in common.

This activity aimed to demonstrate that most people choose friends who are similar to them in race, religion, socio-economic status, and gender.

The discussion portion of this dinner will happen this month, since there was little time left over after the speeches. An email will be sent to all students with more information about the date and time of this event.

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