Humanity is not on a steady track of improvement but instead hits peaks and falls into dips, writer and civil rights activist Shaun King said in a visit to UConn School of Law. The challenge, he said, is to find a way out of the current dip.
King was the keynote speaker at the Black Law Students Association’s annual Night of Inspiration on February 22, 2018. The theme was Destruction of the Black Body: Stunted Growth of the Black Community Through Healthcare, Criminal Justice, and Education. Students reinforced the theme by placing body silhouettes on campus sidewalks, and King expounded further by critiquing the idea that humanity improves steadily as technology advances. Based on that theory, King said, 2018 should be the best year yet.
If humanity is always on an upward track “how do we explain Rwandan genocide? Slavery? Prisons? The Holocaust? Police brutality?” King asked. Right now, he said, the United States is in a dip because technology is steadily improving, but humanity is not.
King and panelists Ayana Jordan, Mika’il Deveaux and Robyn Brown-Manning spent most of the event discussing this dip--how the country got into it and how to get out--through the lenses of health care, education and criminal justice reform.
Jordan, an assistant professor at Yale University and an attending physician at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, said the health care system is failing black people in a number of ways, especially when it comes to mental health. It’s difficult for black people to move forward and enact change without getting help to deal with the trauma of daily racist aggression, she said. Supportive therapy groups in black churches might be a way to start revamping a system that was not created with black people in mind, she suggested
Brown-Manning, who has dedicated her career to social services in educational settings, said she sees an encouraging foundation of support for black students. As young people find themselves on the front lines demanding change, she said, previous generations need to make themselves available to offer support and stave off burnout.
Kadeejah Kelly ’19, vice president of the Black Law Students Association, said the event was a great success and an inspiration.
“Being in law school is hard, but being a black law student is harder,” she said. “We have the usual law student stress and sleepless nights and have to circumvent those with other obstacles, like being told we’re not good enough or intelligent enough. We carry those burdens.”
The association has been working on local initiatives to help rise out of the dip that King described, Kelly said. Its members have helped Hartford teenagers with school projects and are trying to create a pipeline program to bring more black students into law school. She said that while the law school’s administration has been very supportive, she’d like to see more student organizations engage with Hartford.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what an institution owes to the community that surrounds it and as a law student in Hartford it’s a disservice to the community not to help,” Kelly said. “The law impacts everything we do. We’re needed.”