By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]
Although February is the shortest month of the calendar year, it has been one long Black History Month. With scandals such as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook pictures and actor Jussie Smollett being charged one felony count of disorderly conduct for allegedly setting up his own assault and filing a false police report, the star-studded panel at the 2nd Annual Jay A. Parker Lecture had a lot to talk about during their conversation about civility.
The panel was held on Feb. 21 at the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave Northeast, D.C., and featured Pastor A.R. Bernard, Sr., founding pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in New York, Brooklyn Preparatory School and Cultural Arts Academy Charter School; Joshua Johnson, host of 1A, NPR and Armstrong Williams, host of the Armstrong Williams Show and CEO of Howard Stirk Holdings.
The Heritage Foundation and Gloucester Institute produced the 2nd annual event, which was in honor of Jay A. Parker, who is called the founding father of the emerging Black Conservative Movement.
As the theme was “Civility,” the conversation talked a lot about unity, change and listening to one another in order for progress.
The panel also spoke a great deal on how humanity is portrayed in media.
“Why would so many people want to believe what [Smollett] said? Believe what they saw. Because when people saw his situation, they felt they saw themselves. Blacks thought they saw oppression, gays thought they saw homophobic slurs,” Williams said. “And also they saw this- no matter how much a Black man can rise, he’s reminded that he’s still a Black man.”
“But what they don’t understand. The only thing that we know about Smollett is that he’s from ‘Empire,’ is from the media, is from hearsay, but really have no idea who he is. You rely on the media, to dictate who he is and what he’s all about, but it’s unimaginable that he’d lie. But men lie-they’ve lied since the beginning of time.”
Williams had a solution for how to portray people in media.
“So what we do in our broadcasts, when we say a story, I don’t bring up that I’m Black. I don’t bring up that I’m a man. I only want to know the facts.”
Johnson said the key to NPR’s 1A is telling the stories of those directly affected by a major policy issue.
“If we’re talking about the war in Afghanistan, we talk to a military family that’s affected by it and wondering what’s going to happen to their loved one on their fourth deployment. So that in the conversation about policy- which we will get to- it begins by rooting in the lives of real people. So we never forget that it’s not theoretical. The issues that make people upset are not just high in the sky,” Johnson told the audience.
“This is a real democracy. Democracy is a contact sport and everyone gets bruised- even the winners. So we want to make sure that we are all aware, that there are real lives with these issues. That policy and politics is not just about who wins and loses inside the beltway, it’s about a nation of 300 billion Americans who are saying, ‘help.’”
Pastor Bernard worried about the state of Americans and how they receive news.
“A significant portion od our world is in an identity crisis. People don’t know who they are,” Bernard said.
The pastor talked about the accountability of the media to share just the facts as it “controls perception.”
Bernard had a particularly memorable moment when he spoke on Governor Northam’s scandal. While Williams called Northam a hypocrite in regard to the governor’s critiques of former Republic National Committee (RNC) Chair Ed Gillepsie allegedly being racist and bigoted- who happened to be at the event. Williams felt that he should be forgiven for the decades old mistake. Bernard however had a retort that received laughs and a round of applause.
“Adam and Eve were forgiven, but they were still kicked out of the garden,” the pastor said.
Gillepsie empathized with Black Lives Matter in brief comments from the audience.
“I never once in my life felt the need to stand up and shout, ‘White lives matter,’ and when you hear a significant portion of your fellow Americans are feeling compelled to call [Black Lives Matter] to your attention, you need to pay attention, and stop and listen,” the former RNC chair said. “It affected my thinking in terms of criminal justice reform and a number of other things.”
Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele, who also previously served as an RNC chair, briefly remarked on the panel.
“This panel is a reflection of the kinds of conversations we should having always in this country,” Steele told the audience.